NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 5 – The government has now invited the media fraternity for consultations next Monday, over the contentious Kenya Communications Amendment Act that is feared will curtail civil liberties.
Information Minister Samuel Poghisio called a news conference, where he appealed for dialogue in the matter, which has pitted the government against the media, civil society and other interested parties.
"We are calling on the media council, media owners and journalists’ associations to dialogue. It is basically to say that we are in this together. There is no amount of protracted battle between the media and the government that it going to separate us," he said.
President Mwai Kibaki assented to the Bill last week despite pleas for the review of offensive clauses.
The media fraternity raised issues with clauses giving powers to the government to dictate broadcast content and the authority to confiscate broadcast material during emergencies.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga had led a number of Cabinet Ministers, the civil society and the international community in calling on the President to order for the review of the new law.
In a letter dated December 15 seen by Capital News, Mr Odinga urged the President to direct for further consultations between the government and the media fraternity.
"There appears to be merit in some of the issues raised in the petition," the PM said of a memorandum handed over to him by media stakeholders mid last month. "I have reviewed the petition and am of the considered view that fresh consultations are appropriate in the matter before any further action is taken on the Bill."
But despite the uproar Mr Poghisio insisted that the government was not in any way interested in gagging the media.
"The Constitution of Kenya has guaranteed your freedom. It binds me as the Minister; I cannot go on doing the things I have been accused of doing. No Minister can do those things if the Constitution remains as it is," the former Lecturer of Communication told journalists.
He spoke as the government began distributing leaflets on the streets of Nairobi dismissing critics of the Bill.
The leaflets titled ‘What the media are not telling you about the Communication Act’ had a government emblem and referred readers to the government Spokesman website for more details. The leaflets were circulated on the city’s major roads and highways.
In the one page leaflet, the government accused the media of arousing public emotions "n order to get sympathy by misinforming the public on the contents of the Act."
"Please ask the media to stop being dictatorial, to stop misleading you and to tell the whole and real truth," the statement urged Kenyans.
The leaflets accused the media of evading regulation and dismissed the fight of press freedom. The government claimed that the Act was not targeting the media and was in line with international standards.
The leaflets also criticised western embassies for their opposition to the new law, saying that their countries had similar Acts and regulatory bodies with similar rules.
Former Transparency International Chairman Richard Leakey joined in the foray on Monday, calling on progressive leaders to pull out of the coalition government to necessitate the change of leadership.
In a strongly worded statement sent to newsroom Dr Leakey accused President Kibaki of failing to protect and respect Kenyans and their rights.
"That president Kibaki signed the Bill so quickly is remarkable. It was the same person who as the chairman of the Democratic Party who encouraged Paul Muite, Raila Odinga, Kiraitu Murungi, Farah Maalim and many others to keep up the pressure for greater freedom of the press and stronger democracy. Why the change of heart?" Dr Leakey asked.
"We do not want to slip back into a dictatorship and a completely free unfettered press is the best chance for the Kenya we all yearn for and will continue to struggle for."
The one-time Head of the Civil service implored the leaders to stand and be counted. "A coalition whether grand, or not can always be broken and on a matter of this importance, real national leaders should give thought to responsible actions now to save our nation."