Kenyan Parliament Moves To Gag Press

Kenya’s Parliament has begun the process of gagging the country’s media, the Kenya Kapital FM reported on Wednesday.

The legislative body would be doing this by trying to adopt a motion that would empower it to control media reports in the country, according to the radio station.

According to the report, members of parliament now want to be given powers to control news items that run in the media channels.

A parliamentary committee scrutinising the Media Council Bills has proposed that members of the parliament be allowed to control how stories are reported.

If enacted, the two constitutional bills that should be passed in Parliament by December 27 seek to take away the powers of dictating the code of conduct for journalists from the information ministry and place it under the Kenyan lawmakers.

The bill will not only accord the ICT cabinet secretary excessive powers over the Media Council of Kenya which regulates the media, but also give the right to dissolve it and authorize another body “to administer, broadcast content, formulate media standards and regulate compliance with such standards.”

Clause 5(B) 4 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, KICA, law also allows for censorship of the Press during emergency and restricts freedom of the media during such occasions.

Article 34(2) of the Constitution of Kenya states that: “The State shall not- (a) Exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication, or the dissemination of information by any medium.  (b) Penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.”

Article 34(5) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides that “Parliament shall enact legislation that provides for the establishment of a body which shall – (a) Be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests; (b) Reflect the interests of all sections of society; and (c) Set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards.”

If the contentious clauses in the two bills are passed without revision then media operations will be severely affected.

For instance, journalists will not be allowed to report during crises such as the recent Westgate attack which will be categorized under ‘emergency’ and will be regulated to say what government wants.

Already, the Inspector General of Police,  David Kimaiyo, has threatened to arrest journalists who “propagate a propaganda war, incite Kenyans, distribute or maybe issue statements that can amount to hate speech and issue statements or reports that can be able to affect the life of another person”.

The threat was issued a few days after two investigative journalists at the KTN aired CCTV footage showing Kenya Defence Forces, KDF, soldiers entering Nakumatt Supermarket at Westgate and leaving with loaded white paper bags, which were suspected to contain looted goods.

This revelation must have annoyed the police boss because earlier on a joint parliamentary committee investigating the conduct of KDF troops had exonerated them from any looting allegations.

Chairman of the parliamentary committee on administration and national security, Asman Kamama, said that “KDF soldiers and all the officers who participated in that operation, never, and I want to use the word, never, participated in looting”.

Kamama added: “We want to confirm to the media and Kenyans that from what we have seen, no officer from KDF looted as alleged and we want to appeal to Kenyans in the social media to desist from besmirching and maligning the name of KDF.”

Following Kimaiyo’s threat, police summoned journalists Mohamed Ali and John Allan Namu of the KTN to an inquiry on October 25 to investigate the “unlawful sending of misleading messages contrary to the law.”

Surprisingly, the police bypassed the MCK, which is tasked by law to deal with complaints against the media, especially on unethical issues.

According to media sources, the chief of defense forces, Julius Karangi, a general, appeared before the joint parliamentary committee and defended his troops claiming “the paper bags contained bottled water which the troops needed to quench their thirst and were authorized by their commanders.”

He denied that the soldiers ransacked cash boxes/vaults at Nakumatt Supermarket and were simply “sanitizing the area” to ensure there were no weapons left by the terrorists.