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Kenya’s President Rejects Controversial Media Bill

In Kenya, a media bill introduced in parliament that would have forced media practitioners to divulge their sources in court was rejected by President Mwai Kibaki Wednesday. Kibaki refused to sign the bill into law citing an assault on media freedom, which he said would inhibit the tenets of Kenya’s young democracy. Some political analysts say the media is enjoying greater freedom under Kibaki than during the 24-year rule of his predecessor Daniel Arap Moi, when reporters were allegedly routinely harassed and sometimes tortured. But Kibaki came under heavy criticism last year when the government launched an armed raid on an independent media organization.

Basett Buyuka is a senior reporter and news anchor for the Nation Media Television. From the capital, Nairobi he tells reporter Peter Clottey that President Kibaki should be applauded for his refusal to sign the controversial media bill into law.

“President Kibaki has refused to give ascent to the media bill 2007, and in so doing he clearly cited Clause 35, which all the media in the country have been united against… when a story includes unnamed parties who are not disclosed and the same becomes the subject of a legal tussle as to who is meant, then the editor shall be obligated to disclose the identity of the party or parties referred to. Now, President Kibaki has sent this bill back to parliament,” Buyuka noted.

He said media practitioners are excited about the president’s action.

“President Kibaki in his rejection said, and I quote, the bill is a threat to the democratic gains that Kenya has made in the recent past. So the president is fully aware of the clamor against the bill, and I can tell you the media fraternity in Kenya is delighted that the president has taken this stage,” he said.

Buyuka said he is aware of the argument by proponents of the controversial media bill that the Kenyan media has not been able to check itself. But he said the bill itself would have stifled the growth of Kenya’s media.

“This whole debate around the media bill is not new. But the manner in which the government went about it, yes indeed the media has acknowledged that there is the need for regulation, and we said we can self-regulate, and we can have a media council, which would be independent, and be able to regulate issues in the industry,” Buyuka pointed out.

He said although there were some good aspects of the media bill, which would have been celebrated, the secrecy with which the government went about the whole bill is questionable.

“There were some good aspects of the media bill, but it has been so to say marred by inclusion of this provision, which really sets the media back. Some people have even referred to as draconian, and that is what everyone is up against. So it is not the principle that people are opposed to, but the content, which members of parliament in the last minute. And would you believe it they were without even a parliamentary quorum,” he said.

Buyuka denied Kenyan media practitioners have been abusing the newly found freedom of speech they are enjoying under President Kibaki.

“I would say, definitely not. Yes we are enjoying greater freedom now, but in now way have the mainstream media abused that freedom. There is a gutter press… and they do tend to go overboard with stories unsubstantiated, no attributions, but that is a concern even within the mainstream media. Media practitioners want to see an end to these kinds of journalism. In the mainstream media, freedom has to come with responsibility, in the gutter press or the alternative, that’s where there are issues,” Buyuka said.