The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) has called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to veto a new measure passed by parliament that would impose stiff penalties on the media.
Journalists across the country have condemned the proposed law as dictatorial and a blow to the country’s burgeoning media freedom.
Apollo Mboya says the media bill undermines the country’s constitution which guarantees freedom of speech. He said his group, Kenyans and the media are expressing concern about the new measure.
“Such a law is very draconian and can be abused, [and used] to prevent the media from informing the public, especially coming after the uproar with regards to the exposé that the media gave to the Westgate [mall] terrorist attack,” said Mboya.
Mboya’s comments came after Kenya’s parliament late Thursday night passed an amendment to Kenya’s Communication Act to establish a government body to receive complaints as well as penalize the media for offenses.
The punishment include up to shillings 20 million [$240,000] for violating a code of journalistic conduct. The proposed law would also establish a new organization that would regulate content for both print and electronic media.
Mboya said the legislation appears to be retaliation for recent media reports that depicted alleged security lapses, and the looting by security during the recent terrorist attack.
“We request the president to return that [proposed measure] to parliament and not sign it into law, then lobby for amendment to among other things remove the huge penalties and also the composition of this body that is going to regulate the media, so that it includes all relevant stakeholders,” said Mboya.
Some journalists say the proposed law will gag not only the media but private citizens. They also said it will allow senior government officials to use it to suppress dissent. Mboya agreed.
“That fear is very credible,” said Mboya. “A government with [these] kinds of powers proposed in the new law can use it in a very draconian manner.”
Mboya also said that the LSK will legally challenge the new measure in the Constitutional Court if President Kenyatta signs the new measure into law. He says the proposed law undermines the constitution.
“The elements of the amendments even casually looking at them [are] contrary to the bill of rights and to major provisions of [Kenya’s] progressive constitution,” said Mboya.” As a law society, it is more likely that we will be heading to the Constitutional Court to litigate and pray that the court declares the amendments as unconstitutional.”