NAIROBI, December 1 – The Kenya Editors Guild has threatened to take legal action should Parliament pass the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008.,
Chairman Macharia Gaitho said on Monday that some clauses in the Bill, which is now in its third reading in Parliament, were aimed at curtailing press freedom. Mr Gaitho called on the government to expunge the broadcast aspects of the Bill to allow for further consultations with stakeholders.
“Given this government’s track record of relations with the media over the past six years, we are apprehensive that the amendments as proposed will undermine access to information. The ban on live coverage at the beginning of the year following disputed presidential elections is testimony to what executive control of media can mean,” said Mr Gaitho.
The Bill seeks to give the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the telecommunications regulator, more powers over the media and the information technology industries.
The Media Owners Association and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have also raised concerns about the Bill.
Addressing a news conference after a consultative meeting, the editors pointed out specific provisions that posed a serious threat and needed considerations from Parliament before they were legislated.
Among them is a clause that mandates CCK to prescribe to broadcasters what time, type and mode of programmes to air. This, they said, was undue interference in the independence of the media as this was a matter best left to editorial judgment.
One of the most contentious clauses, they said, was one that restricted cross-ownership of media to minority share holding. The editors from leading media houses questioned what would happen to those who had legally acquired ownership of broadcast media to expand their reach and ensure viability of their enterprises.
“Should those with cross-ownership be forced to drop their stake when the Bill becomes law and through what process? We think this will cause unnecessary disruption of the sector and cost jobs,” the editors said in a statement read by Mr Gaitho.
Another contentious clause is Section 88 of the Bill which gives the government powers to confiscate broadcasting equipment during national emergencies or raid stations at will.
Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka had over the weekend stated that the Bill was aimed at enhancing the regulation of the broadcasting sector and provided a legal framework to encourage professionalism in the media industry.
Mr Musyoka had however, noted that although the Bill was as a result of broad consultations with the media and other stakeholders, it has continued to attract concerns over some of the provisions.
He advised those with reservations to urgently raise their concerns with the relevant Parliamentary Committees in order to address the matter before the process is completed.