MPs must re-think law curtailing media freedom


This last week saw the passage of a parliamentary bill that seeks to control Kenya’s media. I get where Kenya’s politicians are coming from with this bill. There is no politician anywhere in the world who would not want to have a tool that enables them to control the kind of media coverage they get; and this bill does that for them in a best case scenario. (That is why even the parliamentary Opposition was generally silent).

Unfortunately these politicians have forgotten that the reason we have so many new faces in this Parliament is because we have a media that is free enough to showcase new ideas from unknown individuals who do not necessarily belong to a ruling elite. They forget that a lot of them beat more established politicians only because Kenya has a media that does not (at least not always) serve the interests of only the powerful.

What I doubt is whether this Parliament has thought of the worst case scenario of such a law, especially after Hon Jamleck Kamau’s additions.

First the mainstream media would most probably become pragmatic (they are in business), adapt to the circumstances, and only cover positively those with the power to harm their interests. This means that no one would ever be able to ‘leak’ a story that can undermine the ‘establishment’; or run ‘rogue’ for strategic political reasons (usually to build a profile as an independent); or become a successful political ‘maverick’ when the system decides to turn on them.

In fact, the media would become mercenaries; destroying those politicians the status quo wants destroyed; no questions asked. They must realize that should the system decide that some of them were not pliant enough, and opt for other candidates; they will have no avenues to use to fight back in four years time, when they have to fight for their political survival again.

Second; our politicians have forgotten the easily accessible but very powerful social media; which they cannot control. #KOT (Kenyans on Twitter) have forced CNN to apologize; TD Jakes to explain himself and large corporations to pull back products. #KOT can be lethal, and more so if there is no alternative platform to counter social media allegations, through clarification (or spin). This is the scenario that a ‘compliant’ media creates; where the public will then not trust mainstream media and will turn to the social media for ‘truth’. I doubt many politicians want to have their followers using social media to judge them.

Finally, Parliament has given Kenya’s other two arms of government an opportunity to make them look silly and selfish.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has already indicated what he thinks of the bill and should he actually send it back to Parliament he will have won a powerful public victory over Parliament. On the other hand, if the President signs the bill the media will roll out powerful public activities that will distract the Executive. They will also go to the Judiciary, which really has no option but to declare the bill unconstitutional, leaving e.g. on the faces of Parliament and the Executive.

In each of the above scenarios Parliament is looking at a lose/lose scenario if they proceed this way. They need to step back, and look at this situation again. How do they proceed on this issue in a way that serves the best interests of the ‘common-bigger-picture-Kenya’ for all of us; the Kenya envisioned by the new constitution?

My advice to Parliament; Call the media stakeholders for a candid discussion; define a ‘common-bigger-picture’ each institution can live with; define the structures to get to it, and make this into a new bill for the President to sign. If Parliament does this they will be surprised at how easily they will all agree on a solution that the public can live with.
On KTN’s ‘Jeff Koinange Live’ (JKL) Bench last Thursday I faced-off against AfriCog’s Gladwell Otieno on the ICC cases. Gladwell believes that Kenya’s cases must proceed to their logical conclusion; I believe they have been overtaken by events and are now complicating Kenya’s capacity to move forward progressively.

Ironically we both agreed that an innocent verdict on Uhuru and Ruto does not help the 2007 PEV victims; and that a guilty verdict will in all likelihood lead to more violence (and more victims) than in 2007/08. So if both sides of this debate agree that all possible outcomes from the ICC cases lead to a lose/lose scenario for Kenya, why can’t we agree that ICC is hurting Kenya!

Maybe it is because not everyone can see beyond the Kenya we have today to a Kenya in maybe; 2053. Maybe if we could ‘see’ that Kenya; where most of us involved in this discussion now will all be 20 years older; this debate would get easier; especially because in that Kenya, neither Uhuru or Ruto will be a factor anymore; whatever their best case scenarios today.

(Wambugu is the Executive Director, Change Associates Trust)

4 Replies to “MPs must re-think law curtailing media freedom”

  1. you know that phrase”Think twice before you act” yes its the most appropriate for our dear Mps before they came about with the proposed media bill.They never into considerate about the majority anything that they decide but provided they see t will be at their own impress they go by that. This aint a fair game Because is our mirror of society and minus it the society will be doomed.Let them be considerate of the majority not minority before they take any action.

  2. Anyone who has read the media bill will know that this article on the media bill is offered by, either, a person who has not read, can’t read the bill or can’t comprehend the bill.

    The bill has in no way disabled the printing or airing of truth, regardless of who, where or which office it has come from.

    The new media bill only reaches to identify the lacking in two main area’s

    1. That the media council that was previously chaired and manned only by players in the media industry, didn’t carry out one of it’s core duties – To reprimand false and ill reporting.

    Fresh examples come to mind

    – The media never miss to attend and cover parliament on any given day. Day’s before the VAT Bill was passed, the media were addressed by the Minister of Finance (Cabinet Secretary sounds like a tool in a garage) During this fora, the media were told that basic product’s wouldn’t be touched at all. On the day the bill was passed, the same media were sitted in parliament all through the debate and passing of the same bill. Yet again, basic product’s were discussed and the house agreed to support the bill because the bill stated that basic products wouldn’t be touched at all.

    But what did the media in unison do? They disregarding the truth and the suffering it would case, going right ahead to lie to the whole country that basic product’s had all been taxed. Kenyan’s bought milk, bread and etc at false prices for a period of 2 week’s, all along the media was enjoying the negativity it created toward’s government. When their lying couldn’t hold anymore they fained misunderstanding the bill. How do all the reporters from all media houses who sat all through the bills parliamentary proceedings claim to have misunderstood? ………………Editor’s Guild perhaps?

    Most recent – Westgate.

    Nakumatt management came to the defence of KDF as reported by the CGS. YES, the soldiers were permitted to drink water from the westgate supermarket. Were they to litter the premises with empty bottles or better still, were they to return half drank water bottles? They choose to carry the empty and half empty bottles of water out with them in Nakumatt (I think the Uchumi bag’s were slightly out of there way) paper bag’s as seen in the CCTV footage.

    Did they know the weight of what they were about to report – Who wouldn’t. So, what was the conscious thing to do given that what they were about to plaster on our screen’s would have very serious implications not just to the Military but also to the country’s citizens who have always drawn citizenry confidence and security from the military?

    The media also consciously imprinted in our mind’s that Westgate was open for public scrutiny after 4 days. This to squarely implicate KDF as the only possible looters. The Military left Westgate in the hands of the Police who kept the premises sealed for close to two weeks before they allowed the tenants to visit their shops and offices………………………Great consequences, high impact story……………………Editors Guild

    Question: What kind of an adult would you be if, as you walked by the road, came across children playing by the side of a busy road and just walked past without reprimanding them in warning about how dangerous the consequences would be given the proximity to the road.

    I ask this because the soon to be disbanded media counsel will claim that they didn’t act on the obvious because no complaint was lodged. In other word’s, they will await the knocking, crippling or death of a child or children as it might well be to act responsibly.

    Lastly, what would it take for an adult/ Editor to think that telling of a man caught having sexual ‘relations’ with a chicken/cow/donkey/goat is a news worthy story fitting to air on national TV.

    Lastly, Mr Wambugu weighs in by claiming –

    “There is no politician anywhere in the world who would not want to have a
    tool that enables them to control the kind of media coverage they get;
    and this bill does that for them in a best case scenario”. (That is why
    even the parliamentary Opposition was generally silent).

    Wambugu, I have read the proposed bill – It is in english not turkish. Law is english. One only need’s interest and mind clarity to comprehend and remember what they read……..more like history……….comprehension)

    The bill doesn’t cripple, gag or inhibit reporting of truth and fact’s.
    No single individual is protected by the new media bill. It guarantees absolute freedom to report truth and facts.

    I suggest you fire your current english translator – he/she is absolutely incompetent in matters “Reading and Comprehending Simple English” (He/ she totally lied to you)

    Incompetence is not very expensive – it’s like a tumor……Once it inhabits an individual, it starts growing and absolutely nothing will get on it’s way…….absolutely nothing. One only get’s more incompetent.

    Place an ad “AND” hire a new, competent, person.

    Please fire your current translator………….I hope you weren’t paying NHIF…………LOL!!.

    1. Stuck as you evidently are in hero worship, still one must try reason with your jaundiced views. Freedom of the Press is in fact freedom of expression. The press is a nation in conversation with itself and the more robust the better. The government ultimately can only be one of the stakeholders in the nation, and cannot purport to impose limits and controls on national conversation, whether these are flawed, irrational or whatever.

  3. Mazzdark, whos’ thinking is obviously as clouded & Dark as his name, should realize that ,this media bill has nothing to do with political parties, it is aimed at the Media, PERIOD!
    Having said that, the Bill does need some alterations yes, but, lets face the facts, the Media in Kenya has failed to regulate itself. A case in point is just recently during the attack at WestgatE. This was probably the worst & most horrific incident since the US Embassy bombing in ’98.Yet, some newspaper editor somewhere felt that the terrorists had not shocked us enough, so they decided to give us shock therapy on the cover of Sunday Nation! Maybe the media does need a strong arm, (probably holding a ‘Fimbo’ ya nyayo) to guide them & put them in Place when they go astray!

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