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Save our country, Mr President

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 11 – The Media Owners Association (MOA) has petitioned President Mwai Kibaki not to assent to the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill that was passed by Parliament on Wednesday.

At a press conference on Thursday, MOA Vice Chairman Martin Khafafa termed the proposed law that is awaiting President Kibaki’s final approval as un-democratic as it seeks to curtail the freedom of information and goes against the rule of self regulation.

“We cannot allow the people who we pay to take away our voice, to take away our ability to think on our own. Freedom of expression is a basic human right enshrined in our constitution since independence. We will fight for it with our very lives,” he said.

”The media today says ‘Mr President, save our country. Please do not sign this Bill into law. Mr Prime Minister, save our country. Please do not agree for this to go any further’.”

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.

The new law also gives power to the Information Minister to dictate broadcast content. The Bill 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.

“Yesterday Parliament passed a law to ensure the media can never again tell the Kenyan people about their impunity and irresponsible looting of our taxes,” the Vice Chairman said. “Our politicians have now consigned all of Kenya to a permanent darkness. A darkness in which they will determine what they want Kenyans to hear and see and at what time they wish us and Kenyans to do so.”

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.

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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.

“We feel it is a direct revenge against our exposure against their lack of paying taxes,” Mr Khafafa said.

The association accused the Information Minister Samuel Poghisio and his Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo for backing off on promises to delete the controversial clauses.

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 passed by Ninth Parliament but the Head of State returned it to Parliament for amendments after the media fraternity raised issues with the oppressive clauses. It had to be re-introduced in the 10th Parliament.


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