Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki has signed into law a restrictive media bill that domestic and foreign critics have condemned as repressive and reactionary.

Mr. Kibaki released a statement on Friday that appealed to the media to "recognize that freedom must go hand in hand with responsibility."

He said one of the critics' main complaints - an article authorizing media restrictions during a state of emergency - is part of an older law [Section 88 of the Kenya Communications Act of 1998] and should be regarded as a separate issue.

The new bill, Kenya Communications Amendment Bill, sets heavy fines and prison sentences for perceived media offenses.  It also allows government ministers to dictate content on broadcast media, and permits the seizure of equipment.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders on Friday said the bill is a major step backwards for Kenyan press freedom.

The U.S. Embassy in Kenya said the bill runs counter to the commitments of Kenya's coalition to carry out reforms designed to strengthen democratic institutions.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has spoken out against the bill and threatened to file a legal challenge against it.

Last month, Nairobi police used tear gas to break up a demonstration against parliament's passage of the bill and arrested several protesting journalists. 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.