ICT Bill: To gag or not to gag

December 16, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 16 – The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill caused a stir in Parliament on Tuesday as legislators accused each other of being insincere.

Members traded barbs in the National Assembly during heated debate on whether or not the controversial law is good for the country.

Danson Mungatana and David Musila sparked the contest by accusing sections of the media of maligning the credibility of legislators, as they justified their decision to support the bill.

“There must be checks and balances,” Mr Mungatana, who is the Garsen MP, insisted. “Even this Parliament is controlled by the Judiciary, while the Judiciary is controlled by the Executive, which is in turn controlled by Parliament. The President must sign this bill!”

“Mr Speaker, would you protect this House and its members from intimidation by the media?” Mr Musila (Mwingi South) pleaded.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga however stood to defend the 4th estate and cautioned that any attempts to gag it must be resisted at all costs. He said its freedom must be protected. There was however uproar in the house when the PM disowned the bill, saying that it was not approved by the Cabinet.

“I chair all Cabinet committees that clear business before they go to the plenary of Cabinet, and this bill did not come,” he said.

22 MPs passed the bill last week ignoring calls from media stakeholders who wanted oppressive clauses said to be contained in the document amended. The bill now awaits presidential assent. However the media fraternity and civil society have been campaigning spiritedly, petitioning the President not to sign the document into law, but instead return it to the House with amendments.

Eleven journalists and tens of activists have been arrested since Friday for demonstrating against the bill.

On Monday, Mr Odinga met the Media Owners Association and assured them that he would be holding discussions with President Kibaki over the bill and would request the President to allow further consultations on the contentious document.

While those who passed the law have stood by their resolve, those who were absent in the House have faulted their colleagues. These MPs were taken on by their colleagues Martha Karua, Uhuru Kenyatta, and Bifwoli Wakoli, who censured legislators who did not show up in Parliament to contribute to the bill. They accused those opposing the bill outside the House of being insincere.

“Some of us instead of sitting here to make laws we want to play to the galleries out there,” Mr Wakoli said.

“When something is passed by the House, irrespective of whether we contributed or not, it is a decision of the house,” Ms Karua insisted.

“If anybody had a comment, nobody locked the doors and prevented them from coming here to make their contribution,” Mr Kenyatta pointed out.

The bill gives the government authority to close down and dismantle media outlets by declaring a state of emergency or citing security concerns. It also bestows the Minister for Information with undue influence over media content through the government-appointed Communications Commission of Kenya.


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