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Kenya: Controversy over Proposed Media Law

(Feb. 16, 2011) The members of the journalist community in Kenya have raised concerns about a Media Bill 2010 proposed by the Minister for Information and Communication, Raphael Tuju, which would make changes to the existing media laws in the country. They call the proposal “many steps back,” pointing to the limits on industry self-regulation in the bill. The proposal would cut the size of the Media Council, a regulatory body originally set up by the industry itself in 2002 and established under a 2007 law, from 13 members to 7, and would also make the Judicial Service Commission the agency that recruits Council members. The Chief Justice would be empowered to appoint the members. (Alphone Shiundu, Kenyan Media Reject New Law, DAILY NATION (Feb. 8, 2011), World News Connection online, subscription database, Doc. No. 201102081477.1_667a00dac8e7a6ea.; Guy Collender, Ruth Nesoba, & Fred Oluoch, The Media in Kenya, Stanhope Centre website, (last visited Feb. 14, 2011).)

In addition, under the proposal, certain media organizations now involved in the Media Council would not be allowed to participate in the future, including the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK), the Kenya Correspondents Association, and representatives of media training institutions. Furthermore, at present the Media Owners' Association, the Kenya Union of Journalists, the Editors Guild of Kenya, and the Law Society of Kenya automatically have representatives on the Council; this would no longer be true under the proposed reforms. Instead, these organizations will be involved only in the interviewing process for potential Council members. The recruitment panels would also include members from a number of government agencies, including the Ministry of Justice. The bill states that no one who is a “state officer, a person in the public service, (and/or) an employee of a media enterprise,” would be able to serve on the Council. The bill also states that those who are bankrupt, foreigners, officials or employees of political parties, or who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to more than a year of imprisonment cannot be Council members. (DAILY NATION, supra.)

Both Levi Obonyo, the Chair of the Media Council, and Peter Mutie, of PRSK, while recognizing that part of the motive in developing the proposal was to bring the current law in line with Kenya's new Constitution, still describe the draft as regressive. Obonyo expressed concern that some liberties were being eliminated, even though the draft does state that the Council should guard against both government and commercial bias and “be wholly independent and separate from government, any political party or organization, any commercial enterprise or any nominating authority.” (Id.)

Media members did agree to form a ten-member taskforce to consult with the Ministry of Information and Communication. Kiprono Kittony of the Media Owners' Association commented on the need for consultation in the legislative process, stating, “[t]he ministry has to accept that they are stakeholders, just as we are and we have to consult. If we come up with a document and some of the stakeholders object to it, then we're back to the drawing board.” (Id.)

Kenya has an active news media industry, with four major, daily newspapers and more than 20 local radio stations, in addition to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. (The Media in Kenya, supra.)