Kenya journalists protest media bill that could ‘shrink democratic space’
The bill creates a government tribunal that can fine journalists if it finds them guilty of breaching a code of conduct
About 300 journalists and civil rights activists marched to parliament and the president’s office Tuesday in Kenya’s capital to protest what they say is an attempt by lawmakers to stifle criticism by pressuring journalists with monetary fines.
Many of the protesters sang songs while carrying placards. Others wore tape across their mouths to symbolize the gagging of the media.
David Ohito, the vice chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild, said journalists want changes to the Kenya Information and Communication Amendment bill.
The bill creates a government tribunal that can fine journalists up to $5,500 and media companies around $230,000 if the tribunal finds them guilty of breaching a code of conduct that stipulates the need for accuracy, fairness, independence and integrity, Ohito said. Most journalists earn about $200 a month.
He said parliament created the bill to target journalists in anger over media exposure after legislators awarded themselves hefty raises soon after being sworn in this year.
Kenya’s many newspapers and television stations have also focused on legislators’ resistance to efforts by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to regulate their pay, including attempts by parliament to impeach commissioners. The commission was created by Kenya’s 2010 constitution to determine government salaries. Before that, legislators determined their own salaries.
Kenyan legislators are among the highest paid in the world, earning more than $15,000 a month in salary and allowances, while the average Kenyan earns $1,500 a year. Many Kenyans consider their legislators overpaid and greedy.
Photojournalist and civil rights activist Boniface Mwangi said he opposes the bill because it allows for anonymous complaints. Mwangi said President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government wants to muzzle the press to avoid accountability.
Kenyatta last month declined to sign the Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Bill into law. Instead he made a few changes and sent it back to parliament. Kenyatta’s changes were not substantial, said Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists, though the changes reduced potential fines against journalists from nearly $11,500 to $5,500.
Rhodes said the bill was being used “as a scare tactic to silence the press,” which recently has published investigative stories showing the government in a bad light.
William Oloo Janak, the chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association, said that if the bill becomes law it will shrink Kenya’s democratic space. “They are targeting the media more because the media is the one giving space to all the other critical voices,” he said.
‘Blacklist’ of former pro-Tunisian regime journalists sparks controversySupporters of ‘The Black Book’ say it exposes media figures under Ben Ali’s regime, while critics say the book violates state principles Middle East
Detention of journalists sparks Lebanon protestAs the protesting crowd swelled to more than 100 and after several fights broke out, the Army was deployed. Television & Radio
Tunisia: journalist, rapper get suspended sentenceFrench Tunisian journalist and rapper Aymen Fekih suspension reduced from 18 to 4 months for insulting and offending public morals Television & Radio
Al Arabiya journalist among ‘most influential’ in covering violent conflictAl Arabiya anchor Rima Maktabi has been named among the world’s 100 most influential journalists covering armed violence in a ranking by a ... Inside the Newsroom
Journalists take White House to task over photo accessMajor news organizations wrote to the White House Press Secretary to complain about being shut out of events Print