HON. MOHAMED SHIDIYE
Even as the president stated in a rally that he has no intention to gag the media, the debate is bigger and profound than the parochial and hallowed debate thus far. It not only has Kenyan imperatives, but global practices that need reflections and which Kenya cannot negate.
Very strong opinions and positions, some extreme, continued to pile on the debate on the Media Bill 2013. On the one hand you have media practitioners and stakeholders resisting it using such terms as ‘gag’, ‘draconian’ and ‘retrogressive’ to mention but a few.
We also have had a handful of legislators who feel that stronger and more compelling measures need to be instituted towards enforcing greater responsibility by the media.
The main concern for media seems to be fines proposed in the Bill if found guilty by the Multimedia Appeals Tribunal. The punitive measures proposed of Sh1m for a journalist and Sh20m for media house being quite high according to journalists.
Other concerns are to what extent this Tribunal will be insulated from political manipulation guided by the appointment of the chair by the President and other checks by Parliament. Certainly, specific precedents and/or past incidents must have informed these insertions in the document.
To purport to state that nothing has ever been done with regards to violations of the code of conduct by journalists is inaccurate.
Different people including the President have taken issue with media houses and the complaints commission within the Media Council of Kenya adequately addressed the concerns of the aggrieved and offered decisions that few have been appealed.
It follows then that there are existing mechanisms for redress albeit concerns still remain over how such institution or any other will conduct itself guided by an increasingly more open government through Article 35 of the constitution which guarantees information to citizens so long as it does not pose a national security threat.
Guided by the reality that social media is another avenue in which information is purveyed, the motive is certainly not to silence media since such information will still otherwise come out through the robust social networks.
As the decision of the President is awaited on this Bill whose introduction has caused more heat than light, it should not be assumed that his recent declaration on the same at a private function recently is a legal position.
In my view, a more robust and rigorous debate on the propositions made on this Bill should ensue. And even if the President decides to assent to it, it is not the end of the matter. Laws are made by mortals based on their institutional capacity, responsibility and experience.
Indeed, the debate on the Media Bill 2013 should be benchmarked against global best practice. So far, to the best of my knowledge the ongoing debate on the Bill in reference has been a parochial, single-track and shallow debate. The main opponents of this piece of legislation have been the Press itself and the so-called opposition politicians who wait for any opportunity to throttle the Government.
Kenyan Media has covered enormous mileage over the last decade especially. It is correct to say that our media has solidly evolved into a vibrant, timely, responsible and critical institution for the nation. It’s reporting generally on issues affecting people has been phenomenal.
This has been evident during times of disquiet or anxiety of during such periods as elections and disasters. Indeed the Kenyan Press has proven to be iconic the continent over. The kinds of investigative stories done today yes may need some tweaking, but they remain exemplary. The Kenyans Press has, no doubt, made its mark in building and promoting democracy.
Secondly, any visitor to this nation who picks a local newspaper at the airport and finds praise stories of the government should feel insulted and board the next flight back. And any Kenyan who does the same should be ashamed of being one. A media that is solely soaked in extravagant and sycophantic praise for the government of the day is not worth anyone’s airtime and ink.
Thirdly, our political establishment as it stands today lacks an opposition. This is a precarious situation that naturally calls the fourth estate to occupy the hallowed moral high ground that can keep the government in check. The resources, intellect, energy and focus of media’s role in society have to incisively prick the comforts of the powers that be to remind and inform on why they are in power. This role becomes even more critical where and when we focus on public institutions charged with service delivery.
Fourthly, there cannot be headless chicken running around asserting independence and freedoms without accountability. Arguing about what would constitute accountability and who should be responsible for restoring sanity when mortals go rogue should be a pinnacle of all stakeholders regarding the media Bill.
Fifth, the media itself must take tangible and resolute action internally in newsrooms to instil a sense of professionalism and pride in safeguarding this revered profession. Being the first to witness, package and report local and global happenings among media is heroic and worth cherishing. Those who excel are even recognized through awards and Kenya journalists have successively scooped global and African awards which attest to the growth and finesse of the industry.
It cannot escape the hearts of Kenyans where the nation has come from and how pivotal the media has played its role. It also should disturb minds that media cannot be allowed to fail especially in the days to come.
To assert that there cannot be any individual wanting to ‘gag’ the media would be incorrect. And whoever they are, holding whatever office, they must be stopped. In the same spirit, using the airtime to wholly paint the situation as a cast die could equally yield an unnecessary backlash. It could be to whip emotions against the government and paint it as dictatorial which is callous.
Certainly where there is will, there is a way. Tomorrow’s comfort is suavely manicured today and this should remain at the hearts and minds of all Kenya especially all information courtesans.
(The writer is the Member of Parliament for Lagdera Constituency)