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We are concerned that the media community is sitting idly and letting politicians decide our fate. We cannot afford to allow Parliament to pass the Kenya Communications Amendment Act with its provisions that will definitely lead to our emasculation. And nobody should be deceived that this Act will be good for the media and the country. The devil is in the detail, and upon a closer look, one will discover that what the Government has done or condoned in the past against the media – the May, 2005 attack by First Lady Lucy Kibaki on hapless journalists, the March, 2006 raid by Mamlukis at the Standard, and the ban on live broadcasts early this year — will just be but a prick compared to the proposals in the Kenya Communications Amendment Act. We met Members of Parliament serving in the committee that deals with media, led by Eng. James Rege, on September 15, 2008 at their invitation to discuss this Kenya Communications Amendment Act, and gave them a raft of proposals.

Recommendations by the Kenya Union of Journalists to the Parliamentary Committee responsible for Information and Communications, on the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2007

1. The Kenya Communications Act bestows a very broad mandate on the Communications Commission of Kenya, which it has not been able to, nor is it likely to discharge effectively, especially with the proposed amendments. There is a need to separate mass media from information technology, which the CCK seems to concentrate on.

2. We therefore recommend the creation of a Constitutional Commission, similar to the Parliamentary Service Commission and the Public Service Commission etc, under Section 79 of the Constitution. We are providing text for this proposed Mass Media Commission.

3. We need a Constitutional Commission on Mass Media because freedom of expression, which is best expressed through the mass media, is a fundamental human and constitutional right provided for in Section 79 of the Constitution of Kenya.

4. The independent Constitutional Commission will ensure that the country is protected from abuse of the power to control mass media, which has been experienced before in the arbitrary issue and withdrawal of licenses and broadcast frequencies, and other abuses as was witnessed during the post-election crisis of early 2008, when the government arbitrarily banned live broadcasts.

5. We therefore recommend that the provisions of the Bill as relates to broadcasting, be removed and transferred to the Mass Media Commission.

6. We also recommend amendments to the Media Act 2007 to transfer the functions relating to media and composition of the council to the Mass Media Commission.

7. We also recommend the creation of a Journalism Society of Kenya through an Act of Parliament, to participate in the Mass Media Commission and deal with all issues relating to the discipline of journalists in this country.

Unfortunately, Rege’s committee either ignored our input or fell under the spell of the Ministry of Information and Communications, which has all along been pushing hard for the enactment of this new draconian law.

Now we hear that MPs are so pissed off with the media that they are ready to pass any law that can stop us from questioning their frivolous ways.

It is clear from past experience that in this country, you get nothing on a silver platter. You have to force the hand of the adversary and stop them in their tracks. Press conferences, commentaries and diplomatic meetings will not stop MPs from doing what they please.

It is necessary therefore for members of the Fourth Estate to come out fighting and defend their turf. We know that we are as disparate as ever, pursuing interests that are often so individualistic that they work against the overall good of the media. Is it possible to forget our differences and work together to stop politicians from running this country as if the rest of us are perpetual, hapless passengers in a crowded matatu?

The media can flex its muscle by simply giving a news blackout to the Government and politicians. We can also endeavor to raise this issue at every news conference, every event that we are called to cover, until we have what we want. There are a number of other tactics which can work.

The starting point would be to form a committee to coordinate a sustained campaign to ensure everybody wakes up and takes media seriously. KUJ is ready to be in this committee. Any takers?

Eric Orina
Secretary General
Kenya Union of Journalists
P.O Box 20969-00202
Tel +254 721 397 167