NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 10 – The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, bitterly opposed by media owners, has been unanimously passed by MPs.
Lawmakers collectively passed the Bill on Wednesday ignoring pleas by media stakeholders for them to delete Section 88 of the Bill, which gives the government powers to confiscate broadcasting equipment during national emergencies.
Efforts by the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy, Communications and Public Works, James Rege, to have the offensive clause deleted were ignored by the legislators.
“In the interest of public safety and tranquillity the Minister for Internal Security at the time may order any officer duly authorised in that behalf to take temporary position of any communication apparatus,” the clause states.
Mr Rege told the House that the clause would curtail press freedom, but Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo and Medical Services Assistant Minister Danson Mungatana argued that the media should be more regulated as it had become rogue.
Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio defended the Bill, saying it was aimed at enhancing the regulation of the broadcasting sector and provided a legal framework to encourage professionalism in the media industry.
“We will not abuse the legislation and there should be no fear that we will raid the media at will. We have put in a provision that will allow for an appeal in the courts should unjust action happen,” Mr Poghisio said.
The Bill also proposes that stations commit a minimum amount of time to locally produced content, or alternatively, pay a fine to be used to develop the Kenyan production industry.
Last week, some MPs had indicated that they would pass the Bill “to punish the media” over the extensive coverage of their failure to pay taxes on their hefty allowances.
Editors had asked Parliament and the Government to erase draconian clauses in the Bill, which they said could curtail freedom of speech and information.
They had said that they would have no option but to go to court to have it repelled.
The Bill was first presented to the Ninth Parliament but lapsed after the life of that Parliament ended in December last year. It had to be re-introduced in the 10th Parliament.
The document now awaits Presidential assent.