Category: Africa, Kenya

Kenyatta declines to sign controversial media bill

IPI urges Kenyan parliament to abandon its efforts to interfere in independent news media

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta chats with Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed in Pretoria, South Africa, on Nov. 4. Aides say the president declined to sign a controversial media bill. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

VIENNA, Nov 12 2013 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed indications that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will not sign a controversial media bill that was approved by parliament last month. IPI further urged lawmakers to abandon other efforts to assert more government control over the media.

William Oloo Janak, chairman of the Kenyan Correspondents Association, told IPI that the president is expected to formally return the Opens internal link in current windowInformation and Communications Amendment Bill to parliament. A presidential advisor told the Opens external link in new windowDaily Nation that Kenyatta declined to sign the legislation on grounds that it conflicted with constitutional protections for press freedom.

IPI and Kenyan media organisations say the draft law would give a government-appointed panel the authority to determine who can work as a journalist and to impose fines for violating a new code of conduct.

“President Kenyatta must stand firm against legislation that would give the government unconstitutional influence over journalists,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. “Opens external link in new windowPart 2 of the Constitution specifically bans state interference in the news media or state-imposed penalties for reporting the news. The next step is for the Parliament to scrap its plans to insert political control over decisions that properly belong in newsrooms or in Kenya’s independent media organisations.”

"The president is right to reject the bill,” said Joseph Odindo, chairman of the Media Council of Kenya and Editorial Director of the Nation Media Group. “When he returns it to parliament, we hope the MPs will consult the industry and draw up a law that promotes open government and free expression. Every law should be consistent with the Constitution."

The Opens internal link in current windowInformation and Communications Amendment Bill was approved in a surprise move on Oct. 31. It calls for creation of a new tribunal that could revoke journalists’ press credentials and impose fines up to 1 million shillings (€11,700) for individual journalists and up to 20 million shillings (€171,000) for companies that breach a news code of conduct.

The legislation had been condemned by Opens internal link in current windowIPI and other media organisations, including the East Africa Journalists Association and its affiliate, the Kenya Correspondents Association, which Opens external link in new windowsaid in a statement that the parliament’s actions “threaten media freedom, freedom of expression and the overall democratic gains that Kenya has achieved over the years”.

Speaking at the African Media Leaders Forum in Ethiopia last week, Kenya’s Opens external link in new windowDeputy President William Ruto said the president would not sign the Information and Communications Amendment Bill and he called for parliament to remove controversial provisions that would interfere with media independence.

The parliament has also been discussing a Media Council Bill that would allow the government to influence who sits on the Media Council of Kenya, according to the Opens external link in new windowStandard newspaper. It would also restrict reporting that is “prejudicial” to national interests.

But the Correspondents Association’s Janak said it now appeared that controversial provisions of that bill were being withdrawn, calling it a “cautious victory” for the news media.

Bethel McKenzie also urged the national assembly to rethink this draft law as well.

“Such government interference would undermine the independence of Kenya’s existing self-regulatory body and would constitute a direct assault on the country’s robust and highly competitive news companies,” the IPI executive director said.

“We hope this legislation never makes it as far as the president’s desk, but if it does, we implore President Kenyatta to send this bill back to the parliament as well.”

For more information, contact:

Timothy Spence | Senior Press Freedom Adivsor | Opens window for sending emailtspence[@] | +43 1 512 90 11