Suspected gov’t leaflets defend draconian Kenya media bill

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Three days after Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki signed into law the controversial Kenya Communications 2008 (Amendment) Bill, which virtually gags the local press, leaflets surfaced in the streets of Nairobi Monday defending the move.

The leaflets, which bore the government’s Coat of Arms, vilified the press, saying it was moved by nothing but the thirst for profit and economic interests

The leaflets, suspected to have originated from the office of government spokesman Alfred Mutua, said that the local media had lost the sense of social responsibility and was busy eroding the country’s social fabric by televising and airing pornographic material.

The Bill, apparently targeting the broadcast media, gives the government powers to schedule and determine the time for airing TV and radio programmes, review and vet news items and any other broadcast material.

It has been strongly condemned by journalists, legislators who ironically passed it in parliament, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the civic society, religious groups and the international community.

Some have termed it ‘draconian, outdated and a slap in the face of democracy’.

They said it was geared towards hiding the truth from the citizens of Kenya.

The Media Owners Association, led by chair Linus Gitahi, said what happened was an unacceptable and a thinly-veiled attempt to take away the freedom of expression which Kenyans had fought for right from the days of colonial rule.

The media owners took strong exception to the fact that the Bill gives the state communications regulator, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the powers to determine broadcast contents.

Gitahi took a swipe at the authorities for vesting excessive powers in CCK, a government body whose board members are appointed by government.

He said the law rubbishes and usurps the powers of the Media Council, a quasi-independent regulating body made up of media professionals.

But Kibaki, in a move that has seen him and Prime Minister Odinga read from different scripts, maintains that he signed the Bill in the national interest.

The development has brought to the fore once again the sharp differences in the Grand Coalition Government, as the Prime Minister and key officials of his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party said Monday that the Bill should be returned to parliament and the offending clauses deleted.

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