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Kenyan Lawmakers Pass Harsh Media Law

  • VOA News

Kenyan lawmakers have passed a controversial new media bill that creates a government tribunal with the power to impose heavy fines on journalists found violating a government-authored code of media conduct.

The legislation, passed late Thursday, drew immediate and sharp criticism from Kenyan news outlets. The Nairobi Standard newspaper called the legislation an attack on free speech and democracy, while a privately owned television network called it "draconian."

The bill includes fines of more than $10,000 for individual reporters, and penalties of up to $240,000 for their corporate employers found violating tribunal standards. It also places a limit on foreign advertising in local media.

The legislation comes just one week after the Nairobi government chastized journalists for their coverage of last month's Westgate Mall massacre. That coverage included closed circuit television footage appearing to show government forces looting items from a supermarket.

Local media also reported that some of the security personnel who died in the mall siege were killed by friendly fire.

Kenyan Inspector General David Kimaiyo, in an address last week, said those reports and others were meant to "provoke and incite negative opinions" of security forces.

At least 67 people, including six government troops, were killed in the four-day siege by Islamists that began September 21. Somalia's al-Shabab militants claimed responsibility.