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.

ODM diaspora attacks Kibaki – Raila duopoly

Press release by ODM Scandinavia branch.

Press release by ODM Scandinavia branch.

This year’s Jamhuri day celebrations in Nairobi were marked by bitter protests by Kenyans which saw the arrest of journalists, brutalization of activists by equally brutal security guards and attempts by a section of protesters to disrupt the Jamhuri celebrations altogether as President Kibaki was giving his key-note speech.

At the center of the protests is the controversial passing by Parliament of the draconian Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, high food prices that have led to starvation of millions of poor Kenyans across Kenya, failure by MPs to pay taxes for their million salaries and misplaced expenditure and looting of the economy by the ruling class as the country continues to beg for hand-outs from agents of Western imperialism represented by the United States, Britain and the European Union.

The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008 will basically allow the Minister of Internal Security to raid media houses with impunity, seize equipment, arrest journalists at will and disable the Press anytime in Kenya.

When the Coalition took over government with President Mwai Kibaki as Head of State and Raila Odinga as Prime Minister, the general belief of Kenyans was that the government would move along the path of expanding the democratic space that would accord the media greater freedom. In the absence of a political Opposition on the ground, the media remains the public’s trusted watchdog and it is for this reason that any legislation designed to narrow or reduce Press freedom must remain suspect.

With the media bill a few steps away from becoming law, the message the Coalition government is sending to Kenyans is that the new government is ready to violate the rights and freedoms of Kenyans (including Press freedom) which were won with sweat, pain, life and blood in protracted and bitter struggles that have been well documented in history books. This is unacceptable to say the least.

The scandalous attack on The East African Standard by the Kibaki dictatorship is still fresh in the memories of Kenyans. The new media bill being peddled by the Coalition is designed to facilitate such attacks at anytime, at any media house and for any reason. From the position of ODM-Scandinavia, the enactment of the media bill amounts to a roll-back of the democratic gains of the last three decades, a move that should be resisted by all Kenyans and by any means necessary.

Arrests were illegal, draconian, oppressive and heavy handed

We congratulate the gallant Kenyans who took the unprecedented step of confronting the Kibaki-Raila dictatorship head-on with respect to the key issues mentioned.

Apart from struggle, there is no short cut to freedom and liberation of a people suffering under the yoke of oppression, mass poverty, hunger and deprivation in the midst of plenty. As yesterday’s freedom fighters become today’s sell outs, new revolutionaries have to emerge to continue with the people’s struggle while learning from mistakes of the past.

Hungry Wananchi at Jamhuri

The Orange Democratic Movement in Scandinavia (ODM-Scandinavia) condemns, in the strongest terms possible, the arrest and brutalization of Kenyans who were protesting against the new media bill on Jamhuri day together with those who sought to bring to the attention of the government the reality of high food prices that has created mass starvation across the country at a critical time when millions of Kenyans find it difficult to put food on the table.

Most importantly, ODM-Scandinavia is very disturbed with the arrest of activists who wore T-shirts calling for MPs to pay taxes and which advised Kenyans to stop paying taxes if MPs cannot do the same.

There can be no taxation without representation and if MPs who are supposed to represent the taxpayer cannot themselves pay taxes, then there is no justification whatsoever why Kenyans should continue paying taxes which are, nevertheless, looted by the greedy ruling classes.

We have in mind the arrest of Mwalimu Mati, the Chairman of the MARS Group who was taken into custody together with his wife, the arrest and brutalization of Mr. Odhiambo Owuor who has since been admitted to Nairobi Women’s hospital from where he claimed that members of the Presidential security guards tortured him, the arrest of several journalists who were protesting against the media bill and the taking into police custody of several activists who were simply exercising their freedom of expression in independent Kenya by putting on T-shirts with a political message.

By arresting Owuor, the government has proven its primitivity because it should have accepted Owuor’s message to understand what he wanted to tell the President since he was unarmed and of no threat to the President. Instead, he says that he was almost castrated.

The position of ODM-Scandinavia is that in making the illegal arrests, the action of the government was illegal, draconian, oppressive and heavy handed, given that those arrested had not committed any crime. The illegal arrests is further evidence that there is nothing to celebrate on Jamhuri day because Kenyans now have to go back to struggle to defend freedoms that were won decades ago.

ODM-Scandinavia warns the Coalition government that its attempt to revert Kenya back to the days of dictatorship of the Moi type will not be tolerated by Kenyans under any circumstance. We call for the unconditional release of all those arrested with immediate effect.

Martin Ngatia
Vice Chairperson
ODM-Scandinavia

Mass action update – 14th December 2008

Mass action updates as at 16:15 Kenyan time.

  • Kenyan paramilitary police seal off Uhuru Park following reports of planned rallies.
  • Mwalimu Mati and his wife released from Langata Police Station following protests and blockading of Langata Road by civil society activists.
  • Police seal Kariakor roundabout after Mungiki threaten to demonstrate in the city.
  • Demonstrators dispersed from Ufungamano House.
  • Oscar Foundation head arrested.

Reports by Citizen TV, Nation Media and Capital FM.

School of Journalism conning students

As the Kenyan government enacts unprecedented media laws aimed at ‘restoring sanity’ to the journalism profession, its media training institutions should be scrutinized for minting millions of shillings while churning out half-baked graduates.

Wambui Kiai, School of Journalism Director. Picture by University of Nairobi.

Wambui Kiai, School of Journalism Director. Picture by University of Nairobi.

The School of Journalism at the publicly-funded University of Nairobi has admitted over 500 students since 2006 without investing in vital training equipment.

Its amazing that the once-respected media institution lacks video and still cameras. There are neither digital recorders nor studios. The School of Journalism lacks a training newspaper for aspiring print journalists. Its library is a pale shadow of what it is supposed to be.

School of Journalism has only 16 computers to cater for hundreds of students who need to finish assignments on time. The computers are allegedly of poor quality and students – who are already paying through the nose for the facilities – have little choice but to visit commercial cybercafes to complete their papers on time.

There are fears that School of Journalism graduates will not gain the requisite skills to cope with global reporting standards. The prospects of graduating without handling a video camera is raising concern among students. Three years of empty promises has forced them to blow the whistle on a complacent administration.

Students writing to the Nairobi Chronicle say that the School of Journalism charges among the highest fees at the University of Nairobi without providing value for money.

“We are paying Kshs11,500 (US$147) for every unit while other courses are charging less than that. In order to graduate, you should have done 50 units. The total cost including examination fees, library, computer use and medical insurance adds up to more than Shs500,000 ($6410) for the degree.”

“We don’t have broadcast equipment, classrooms are in a pathetic state and the administration of the institution has been a disappointment. The management does not communicate with students and many times we are ambushed with decisions that affect us,” the students lament.

The students further add that the institution sometimes hires rooms at the nearby Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) but the structures are reportedly worse than the main campus.

Students complain about lecturers missing classes with impunity and leaving early when they show up. “Classes that are supposed to end at 8:30pm end at 7:00 and there are no make ups.”

The affected students say that pleas to the School’s Director, Wambui Kiai, continue to yield empty promises. In any case, the soft-spoken Director is unaccessible.

Following student threats to petition Vice Chancellor George Magoha, the Director issued a circular stating that grievances should be submitted through class representatives. The move did not go down well with the aspiring scribes, majority of whom are clamoring for major reforms at the media training facility.

Students are wondering what the institution is doing with millions of shillings collected since 2006 and yet a modern digital studio could easily have been acquired with the money. Students stated that activity fees have not been utilized. Not a single trip has been organized by the institution in recent memory.

Students reveal that the school has not cultivated linkages with Kenya’s media industry. Media personalities have never been invited to provide mentorship or talks as would normally be expected. The rival Department of Literature is doing much better because it regularly hosts editors, diplomats and other personalities to share useful career experiences.

The Anvil newspaper, supposed to train journalists, has suffered a quiet death. Only one issue has been published in the past five years and that was because a visiting American professor donated her own money. It is rumored that a senior lecturer at the institution has refused to let go of the Anvil’s management.

Students are urging the Ministry of Education to intervene and stop further enrollments at the School of Journalism until the necessary facilities are in place. Otherwise, more Kenyans will be short-changed.

The other public journalism school, the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, is not faring much better.

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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