MATHIU: New media law myopic, vengeful and extremely dangerous - Daily Nation

New media law myopic, vengeful and extremely dangerous for this country

Thursday October 31 2013

MPs in Parliament. PHOTO/FILE

MPs in Parliament. PHOTO/FILE 

By MUTUMA MATHIU
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I was horrified Thursday by Parliament’s secretive and immoral efforts to take the country back to the dark days of dictatorship.

As I write this, MPs have just passed a law which takes our democracy many years into the past.

They have voted to shackle an otherwise vibrant and largely responsible media because they do not have the wisdom to see that an unfettered media are a blessing, not a scourge.

I haven’t read the amendments, but from the briefings I have received, MPs, in a hurried session, amended the Kenyan Communication Bill to create a parastatal which will be in charge of regulating the media.

There will be a complaints commission whose members will be appointed by the Cabinet secretary.

What this means, in practice, is that the government, through the Cabinet Secretary will generally be in charge of regulating the media.

Secondly, the Bill, which the President will most likely sign, provides very severe punishment for media houses and journalists if they breach a code of conduct.

That code of conduct is of course written and will be enforced by the government, through its complaints commission. Heavy fines will be placed on individual journalists, including being barred from practising journalism.

Now, the MPs, who have taken the media fraternity down the garden path, must be congratulating themselves for their cleverness in hitting back at the media which caused them untold suffering in the course of seeking higher pay and cutting lucrative deals.

I want to tell MPs that this unconstitutional Bill is shortsighted and possibly also short-lived. In national life, it is always a mistake to gerrymander the law to suit momentary interests.

In the last government, it was alleged that ODM used various devices to influence the creation of constituencies in a way that was most generous to the Rift Valley, and to some extent, Western and Nyanza, but very mean to Eastern.

Come the election in 2013, Rift Valley was lost and Western was so-so. Only a chunk of Eastern stood with ODM. And so, if the reports were true, ODM created a monster which ate it at the election.

MPs need to know that life is not just about salaries. As national leaders, they must care for more than just their stomachs and a need to settle scores. Leadership requires an ability to rise above base instincts and to allow one’s actions to be guided by wisdom rather than village-idiot instinct.

For the rest of us, free media are our guarantee of rights and watchdog against an avaricious, destructive and war-mongering political class.

All the problems we have as a country today, including the cringe-inducing farce playing out in the international arena, is the direct result of the foolishness, thirst for power and greed of our leaders.

Of course we also play a part in being so tribal as to be incapable of rational thought, but the engine of our troubles is the people we have elevated above us.

Left to themselves, politicians would bankrupt the country and take us back to hunting and gathering. Their blind desire for unearned wealth is the reason Kenya is ranked among the most corrupt places on earth.

But in every society, we can’t leave our welfare and rights to the good nature of our leaders. Good-natured people don’t succeed in politics.

In the face of relentless public scrutiny, even the best among politicians would go rogue in a matter of minutes. Everyone is on their best behaviour if there is a danger of being found out.

By silencing the media, politicians know they can do whatever they like with impunity. No one will ever know.

Now, why is this law dangerous? I have been a journalist all my life. I have attended six universities, four internationally and two locally to learn about journalism. I understand journalism from its psychology to its institutional operations and I can tell you that as a human endeavour, it cannot take place under government supervision or under institutional caveat.

And our free press has done more for our country – fighting dictatorship, exposing corruption and challenging the violation of human rights – perhaps more than any other institution in our history.

Now Jubilee has taken that away.

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