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Pressure mounts over gag attempt

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 13 – The United States and Germany on Saturday joined the fray voicing opposition to a new oppressive law against the media.

Ambassadors Michael Ranneberger and Walter Lindner said the Kenya Communications Amendment Bill which was passed by Parliament on Wednesday was a potential threat to Kenya’s democratic values.

“The passage of the Bill runs counter to the coalition government’s commitment to carry out fundamental reforms in order to strengthen democratic institutions and to promote the well-being of all Kenyans,” Mr Ranneberger told journalists at the US Embassy on Saturday morning.

The contentious piece of legislation, also known as the ICT Bill, gives the government authority to close down and dismantle media outlets by declaring a state of emergency or citing security concerns. It will also give the Minister for Information undue influence over media content through the government-appointed Communications Commission.

The two ambassadors also supported Friday’s demonstrations by the media and civil society which marred Jamuhuri Day Celebrations, as they voiced their opposition to the Bill, which is now awaiting Presidential assent.

“It is understandable that Kenyans…are demonstrating their democratic spirit by speaking out (against) the Media Bill,” said Mr Ranneberger.

The envoys observed that unrestricted access of the public to information provided by professional independent media is vital to the success of a democratic process.

Also voicing opposition to the Bill on Saturday was the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations (KARA) which said that Kenya must, at all costs, maintain a free but responsible media.

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The Association’s Chief Executive Officer Stephen Mutoro urged President Mwai Kibaki to return the Bill to Parliament “to allow for a fair convergence point between a free media on one hand and a practically responsible media on the other.”

“Kenya risks untold shame and ridicule among the family of nations if the President Kibaki assents to the draconian bill in its current form,” said Mr Mutoro.

KARA said the law would affect many aspects of Kenya’s economy because corruption and autocracy would take root unabated if the media’s watchful glare was blurred.

Muzzling the media, they argued, would equally threaten further investments and employment opportunities within the industry, “an expensive option our country can ill afford.”

The residents association further called on the Media Council of Kenya and the Media Owners Association to equally walk the talk on the industry’s self-regulation.

“We cannot afford to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that irresponsible journalism has, in the past, destroyed illustrious careers of some innocent people. Poor censorship of media content is fast eroding our family morals especially on the part of our youth. We appeal to the media fraternity to appreciate this noble fact,” Mr Mutoro emphasized.


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