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Thursday, 09 January 2014

Kenyan Parliament urged to reverse new media law

New measures would give government ‘alarming’ power over journalists and news organisations 

Apollo Mboya is chief executive of the Law Society of Kenya, which argues that parts of the Information and Communications Amendment Act are unconstitutional. Photo courtesy of the Law Society.

VIENNA, Jan 9 2014 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today expressed serious concern about media legislation signed into law last month by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta that would create a new government tribunal with the authority to punish journalists, apparently in violation of the country’s Constitution.

The Information and Communications Amendment Act, or KICA, establishes the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal with the power to revoke journalists’ press credentials and impose fines of up to 500,000 shillings (€4,160) for individual journalists who breach the journalistic code of conduct and a maximum of 20 million shillings (€167,000) for companies that do so.

Parliament initially approved the KICA in a surprise vote on Oct. 31. In November, Kenyatta returned the legislation to lawmakers out of concern it would violate constitutional protections of freedom of the press. Parliament then approved an amended version, which halved potential fines for individual journalists, but the changes fell well short of improvements sough by IPI, along with Kenyan media and legal organisations.

The new statutory power over journalists appears to conflict with Article 34 of the Kenyan Constitution, according to the Law Society of Kenya, which is joining press groups in challenging the law. Article 34 bars the state from interference in news media and from imposing penalties for “any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination”.

“What the Parliament has done is alarming – creating a statutory tribunal that could wield power and influence over independent journalism through the threat of crippling fines, the loss of press credentials and a potential chilling effect on the development of new media organisations,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “We are disappointed that President Kenyatta, who initially expressed similar concerns about the constitutionality of this legislation, has not followed through in ensuring that a core principle of Kenya's constitution - respect for press freedom - is reflected in the laws of the country.

“Furthermore, we fully support the Kenya Editors Guild, the Association of Correspondents and the Law Society in challenging this regrettable legislative attempt to undermine Kenya’s long history of independent journalism and its track record of self-regulation through the Media Council. The parliament and president need to reverse what they have done.”

Parliament also approved a Media Council Bill that would transfer dispute-resolution responsibilities of the independent complaints commission to the new tribunal. Kenyatta signed the Media Council bill into law on Dec. 24 and he approved the KICA legislation two weeks earlier. In addition to power over the media, the tribunal created under the KICA would have authority over complaints about communications and postal services.

Apollo Mboya, chief executive of the Law Society, said in a statement that the new appeals tribunal “undermines constitutional principles on free and independent media under the principle of self-regulation and co-regulation”.

For more information, contact:

Timothy Spence | Senior Press Freedom Adivsor | tspence@freemedia.at | +43 1 512 90 11

IPI: www.freemedia.at | Twitter: @globalfreemedia

 

 
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