CPJ calls on President Mwai Kibaki to reject the recently passed Kenya Communications Amendment Bill, which includes provisions
that would severely harm press freedom.
December 22, 2008
H.E. Mwai Kibaki
President of the Republic of Kenya
Office of the President, Harambee House
Dear Mr. President,
We urge you to reject the recently passed Kenya
Communications Amendment Bill, which
includes provisions that would severely harm press freedom. Legislators approved
the measure on December 10, ignoring concerns raised by journalists, media
company owners, and even fellow lawmakers. This month, on the day marking Kenya's
independence, journalists such as Caroline Mutoko, Larry Adego, Mzee Jalang'o
were detained after demonstrating against this deeply flawed legislation.
We believe the concerns of Kenya's media
community should be heeded. Journalists are alarmed that the information and
communications minister would effectively be empowered to appoint all members
of a powerful new communications commission. The bill vests in this new commission
expansive powers, not only over licensing, but over broadcast content and
scheduling. The measure doubles existing monetary and prison penalties for a number
of categories, including invasion of privacy and sending misleading messages. The
commission would be empowered to shutter stations that do not pay penalties within
a short period of time.
The measure duplicates existing regulatory
roles and appears to reverse existing media ownership structures. The proposed commission
would duplicate the responsibilities of the Media Council of Kenya, which has
government representation to arbitrate media disputes. It also appears to
prohibit cross ownership of media, which would affect numerous companies already
involved in print and electronic media.
The bill still contains contentious provisions
found in the 1998 Kenya Communications
Act. Section 88, for example, allows the Security Minister to raid media houses
and confiscate equipment on grounds of state security. Parliament insisted on
maintaining this passage despite strong opposition from the House Committee on Communications and from civil society
Many believe the 1998 law should be revised,
but this flawed measure is not the answer and should not be signed into law. In
2007, you laudably rejected a repressive media bill that compelled journalists
to reveal their sources. We trust that you will join other voices within your
government, including that of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, to reject this bill
and uphold press freedom in Kenya.