No more media raids in Kenya as President assents to law

By James Ratemo, in Nairobi Kenya

Kenya’s parliament’s attempt to defeat country’s match to enhanced media freedom was cut short.

Mooters of a plan to have a draconian section of law that gave Internal security minister power to storm media houses and confiscate broadcast and print material must be walking with their heads bowed in shame.

Last week, President Mwai Kibaki assented to the removal of the infamous Section 88 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act.

The section was unpopular with advocates of a free Press because it gave the Internal Security Minister the mandate to storm media houses, confiscate print and broadcast equipment on suspicion they were about to publish material that would threaten national security.

The amendment, through Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Act 2009 is part of Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act 2009, which Kibaki assented to on Thursday last week.

In fact such are the laws that the Government uses to oppress the media. During the post 2007 post election violence Internal security Minister invoked a section in the constitution that saw live broadcast banned.

The blanket ban on live news broadcasts that was imposed on 30 December, when President Mwai Kibaki was proclaimed the winner of hotly-disputed elections.

Justifying the ban, the government said the it was in the “interest of public safety and tranquility” when it was introduced amid bloody rioting three days after the elections.

The then Internal Security Minister, John Michuki and his Information counterpart, Samuel Poghisio claimed at the time that people were using the media to incite violence.

But this does not mean the president is free of blame. First he is the one who assented to the law when it was passed by parliament without heeding public outcry to have theoffending section 88 purged.

It is only after the media made ‘ear-busting’ noise the Kibaki ordered Attorney General Amos Wako and Information Minister, Samuel Poghisio to consider media concerns for necessary amendments.

The necessary amendments were made, passed the necessary lehislative procedure before Kibaki gave his nod.

Also established through the amendment is the Broadcasting Content Advisory Council to be responsible for and make decisions on administration of broadcast content, handle complaints and ensure compliance to industry ethics.

The President, through an amendment to the Media Act 2007, has also sanctioned Treasury to fund the Media Council.

The council has for long wallowed in financial darkness and risked manipulation from outside funders since it had no legal funder.

The council is mandated to streamline operation in the media sector and handle grievances surrounding the media.

At the same time, Section 43 has been introduced in the Constitution of Kenya Review Act 2008, which explains how a new constitution shall be put in place after the referendum.

“The President shall by notice in the Gazette promulgate the new constitution not later than 14 days after the publication of the final result of the referendum,” reads the new law.

The President’s assent effectively establishes an Interim Independent Constitutional Dispute Resolution Court. It also provides for legal takeover by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission of the now defunct Electoral Commission.

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