Public support for media bill on the rise

As part of Kenya’s media fraternity, the Nairobi Chronicle is opposed to the harsh terms of the Communications Bill 2008. To this effect, we have published several articles showing why government attempts at controlling the media are bad for democracy.

However, as a responsible media outlet, we owe it to the world to say the truth about what Kenyans really think about plans to regulate the media.

From the feedback we’ve obtained since Parliament passed the Kenya Communications Bill 2008 last week, we can roughly estimate that half of Kenyans are seriously considering the positive aspects of the proposed law.

We are sure that other media outlets in Kenya have received similar sentiments from the people. While condemning the intended measures by the government to reign the press, media professionals should also conduct internal evaluation to see why Kenyans are getting fed up with the industry.

Here’s a sample from Diana Mwangi, one of our readers. We publish this letter because it is a reasonable representation of most opinions we’ve received so far.

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Dear Sir / Madam,

The media in Kenya needs control for the following reasons:

1. The 2007 Election and the media:

You may know the unfortunate events and violence that took place in January 2008 after the disputed elections. Many radio stations carried content that not only heightened tribal tension, but also stoked the fires of ethnic hatred and violence. Simply put, the media failed in its duties, and when this happens, the media should be controlled.

Also, last year, many of the current MPs paid bribes to the media to get positive coverage during the campaigns. The MPs know this and the media know it. But they do not have the integrity to own up to Kenyans. So the MPs have looked at a way of fixing the media.

2. Content:

The content that Kenyan radio stations broadcast on air cannot be defended. Many of our radio presenters are not professional journalists, but comedians and DJs. The bulk of them hardly take time to engage in research. That’s why they bring a lot of trash in the air. What Kenyan media means by freedom is: freedom to insult our leaders, elders, to engage in ethnic caricatures, to carry half-baked stories, gossip, lewd and sensual stories, half-naked pictures of local “celebrities” and to carry skewed “opinion polls.”

This is one time the country needs direction on creation of jobs, food security, stability, youth responsibility and whatever will make Kenya a competitive country.

3. Misleading:

Media is a business and serves the interests of business and NOT of common Kenyans. The Kenyan media is misleading Kenyans that this issue of the Media Bill is one against the people of Kenya.

4. Media owners:

The government should not just control the content but the salaries of media workers, many of whom are underpaid. Media owners do not observe the ethics they criticise the GK for. They underpay journalists and the latter resort to picking bribes to publish and kill stories. If media owners are so angry with the new law, why don’t they go to protest in the streets instead of leaving the lowly paid staff to face police tear gas?

5: Media agenda:

It’s unfortunate that the Kenyan media pursues their own agenda at the expense of the truth. Two newspapers will cover the same event, yet report differently. Why? If you send to the media a letter that contradicts their partisan agenda, it will not be published. Even this debate on media freedom is not objective. The media only carry stories and views of people critical to the government, and not to the media. Is this honesty?

Conclusion

The government should control the Kenyan media, including specifying qualifications for one to become a journalist. It should stipulate the working conditions and salaries of journalists. This way, we will be on our way to achieving a mature media capable of articulating the aspirations of our people…
Anyone listening?

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The Nairobi Chronicle invites readers’ opinions regarding current affairs in society, politics and economics. Please write to nairobichronicle@live.com
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Mass action updates – 16 December 2008

Mass action updates as at 17:30hrs Kenyan time.

- Maseno student leader arrested for distributing T-shirts urging MPs to pay tax. President Mwai Kibaki is scheduled to attend the university’s graduation tomorrow.

- Tomorrow’s media demonstration in Nairobi against the Communications Bill 2008 banned by police.

Media Bill: Following Zimbabwe’s footsteps

by Scott A Morgan

Several years ago there was a concerted effort among those who are advocates for a free press regarding Zimbabwe. The country had a controversial election and the government was launching efforts to shut down its most vocal critic, The Daily News. Zimbabwe had set up a Media and Information Commission and has used legislation to further silence critics.

In 2002, the Zimbabwe parliament passed the highly controversial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This legislation which was promptly signed into law by President Mugabe was considered to be draconian by most critics overseas. As a matter of fact the Daily News was forced to relocate to neighboring South Africa. Other independent journalists relocated either to South Africa or Britain and most news now comes from the Ministry of Information or reliable international allies.

Currently, two of the most vocal regional critics of the Mugabe regime are Kenya and Botswana. Both countries this year have tried to enact similar legislation that could curtail freedom of the press in the two countries. Both countries are allies of the United States.

The Kenya Communications Amendment Bill 2008 or the ICT bill in the short form has some strong language. Article 86 of the bill will give the minister of information the power to interrupt broadcasts, dismantle TV and radio stations and tap telephones. The internal security minister will gain the power to seize broadcasting equipment.

There has been a backlash against the media in Kenya after the violent aftermath of last December’s presidental elections. Currently the bill has been passed by Parliament and is awaiting President Mwai Kibaki’s assent.

The internal situation in Botswana is somewhat different from Kenya. The country had a peaceful transition of government this year but it has a similar media bill as well. The Mass Media Practitioners Bill, if enacted, will give the Minister of Communication, Science and Technology the power to dictate how the private press can conduct its business.

These are just two examples that we can use to determine freedom of the press in Africa.

Most newspapers now have internet sites so this means that when crackdowns occur, computers are also seized. in Zimbabwe the security forces have the power to actually seize a computer on a whim if it feels that anti-government activities occur. It is not known if the security forces in either Kenya or Botswana have similar powers as well.

However the concern cannot be limited to just Kenya or Botswana. Freedom of the press is a legitimate concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as insurgencies in the east continue and the government and UN peace keepers are unable to stop them. At least 90 percent of attacks, threats and harassment committed against independent journalists were done by government personell without fear of punishment.

Now we are seeing a threat to online journalists as well. In Zimbabwe we know that any journalist, regardless of medium, is subject to arbitrary arrest but there are other countries that have similar efforts.

In Burundi an online journalist was arrested in September and charged with defamation. His crime? Being critical of a presidential trip to the Beijing Olympics. Relations between the government of neighboring Rwanda and the media are strained as well.

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The author publishes Confused Eagle on the internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle can be found at morganrights.tripod.com
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