Parliament Thursday passed a law creating a government-controlled body with power to punish journalists and media houses for their reporting.
In a strange twist, the House also passed a law which establishes a self-regulatory mechanism for the media, but puts a government-controlled tribunal on top of it.
The net effect is a law that severely restricts press freedom and breaches the constitutional protections granted journalists.
The media Bills were passed in a chaotic sitting chaired by Rachel Shebesh (Nairobi County, TNA). Majority of MPs in the chamber were drawn from the Jubilee Coalition. Their Cord counterparts left en masse in protest after several failed attempts to postpone debate on the matter.
President Kenyatta’s changes to the Bills transfer control of institutions with authority to punish journalists and their employers from the National Assembly to the Executive and the Presidency.
The new Bill retains the Sh20 million fine against media houses proposed by MPs and expands offences for which media houses can be punished by a government-controlled tribunal.
Yesterday’s sitting was a carry-over from the chaos on Wednesday evening when the Energy, Information and Communication Committee chairman, Mr Jamleck Kamau, withdrew the changes to the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill agreed with media interest groups.
Cord MPs argued that the Constitution does not allow the President to prescribe laws for Parliament as this would create the possibility that he can come up with bad laws and force them on MPs.
They said the House Business Committee had erred in placing the memorandum on the Order Paper, which meant that the motion debated in the House was illegal right from the beginning.
The adoption of the President’s memorandum means the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal retains the power to impose fines on media houses and journalists, recommend deregistration of a journalist and make any order on freedom of expression.
It has also placed the successor of the Communication Commission of Kenya in the hands of the President and the Communications Cabinet Secretary as they can freely influence the appointment and removal of its board. That body, the Communications Authority, will have the power to dictate how much of local content radio and television broadcasters should have.
“Right now the country is faced with anarchy. The country is faced with rogue leadership because we have a government that has decided that it wants to preside over this country through extra-constitutional means,” Mr Ababu Namwamba (Budalang’i, ODM) said.
At a press conference after the walk-out, Mr Namwamba said: “Today, Cord did not lose anything on the floor of the House. Impunity and unconstitutionality triumphed because we have a leadership of the House that does not want to obey the laws of the House.”