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Kenyan Journalists Push Changes to Media Bill


A Kenyan journalist carries a giant plastic replica of a camera as he participates in a protest in the capital Nairobi, Dec. 3, 2013.

A Kenyan journalist carries a giant plastic replica of a camera as he participates in a protest in the capital Nairobi, Dec. 3, 2013.

Kenyan media representatives are working on a deal to introduce more changes to a controversial media bill. The negotiations come a day after journalists took to the streets to protest the new legislation.

About 400 journalists protested Tuesday in Nairobi against a proposed media bill backed by President Uhuru Kenyatta and many lawmakers.

Critics of the bill, which is aimed at curbing alleged ethical lapses by Kenyan journalists, said the threat of heavy fines would stop journalists from reporting on issues of corruption and good governance.

Media representatives are now working to win the support of at least 233 lawmakers, the number needed to advance amendments to the media bill.

Kenya Editors Guild Vice Chairman David Ohito said one of the solutions was to try to address clauses in the bill which do not need constitutional provision.

“The committee has assured us that they can move both fronts, but they have also said in the event that they do not secure those required numbers then they are negotiating gentleman’s agreement to try address them within three months when the house reconvenes after Christmas,” he said.

The bill proposed by President Kenyatta calls for fines of about $5,000 per journalist or a maximum of $240,000 for any media group that violates the code of journalistic conduct.

According to local media reports, media representatives have struck a deal with the lawmakers that calls for all issues regarding the ethical behavior of journalists and media organizations to be managed by the Media Council of Kenya.

On Tuesday, the protesting journalists said the new law could be used to gag the press, undermining constitutional guarantees of media freedom.

Ohito said the journalists' concerns were real. “The fears are very real and founded on evidence when you become a friend of China, when you become a friend of Ethiopia, and even you become friend with Rwanda then for anyone who works in the media, you must raise your antennas. The warnings are all in the wrong directions,” he said.

In an interview with VOA, Kenya’s government spokesman Manoah Esipisu said the government was not trying to censor the media, but the bill was constitutional.

“The idea that anyone wants to muzzle the press is indeed far-fetched. This constitution has a timeline for legislation and this piece of legislation … has to come on stream by the end of this month. But the provisions that are in there all conform to the constitution promulgated in 2010,” he said.

The media industry is warning of bigger protests if the government fails to make changes to the legislation.

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