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Raila, Kibaki to discuss draconian media law

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 15 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga has said that he will hold discussions with President Mwai Kibaki over the contentious Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008.

Mr Odinga who received a petition from the Media Owners Association (MOA) on Monday, said that he would request the President to allow further consultations on the Bill before he gives his assent.

He assured the media fraternity that the government was committed to doing away with clauses that appeared to curtail press freedom.

The Premier expressed optimism that the President would reconsider the position taken by Parliament last week, but challenged the media fraternity to promote ethical and moral practices in their profession through self-censorship.

“We were hoping to have consultations before the Bill was presented to Parliament unfortunately that did not happen. But I will present the petition to the President and we will then communicate the final results of the discussion.”

The Bill gives the Internal Security Minister powers to seize broadcast equipment from media houses at will.

It also confers undue powers on the Communication Commission of Kenya on regulating media operations yet its appointees are made by the Minister for Information.

In addition, the Bill seeks to control content aired by Kenya’s media.

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The chairman of the MOA Linus Gitahi said the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) should be left to oversee the implementation of regulatory and disciplinary measures in the industry.

“The government formed the Media Council last year with a view of regulating the media. The Council is all-inclusive and even has government officers. I see no reason why we want to duplicate these roles by giving the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) this mandate,” he said.

Others present at the meeting were representatives of the Editors Guild, Kenya Private Sector Alliance, Kenya Union of Journalist and members from the civil society organisations.

Pressure has being mounting on the government to amend offensive clauses in the proposed law to prevent the country from sliding back to the oppressive days of the Nyayo era.

There have been demonstrations following the passing of the draconian Bill with several protesters being arrested during Jamhuri Day celebrations at which President Kibaki and Mr Odinga steered clear of the issue.

The Catholic Church, their Anglican counterparts, the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), civil society, trade unions and Non-Governmental Organisations have rejected the Bill terming it an affront to press freedom.

Some Members of Parliament who were in the House and voted for the Bill have beaten a hasty retreat, joining the calls on President Kibaki to send it back to the House for amendments.

Information and Communication Minister Samuel Poghisio has however continued to defend passage of the Bill and has asked the President to sign it.

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