Kenyan press up in arms over 'draconian' media bill

Kenyan press up in arms over 'draconian' media bill
A Kenyan man reads a local newspaper carrying headlines commenting a new media bill on November 1, 2013 in Nairobi. Kenya's media reacted with shock and outrage on October 31, 2013 after parliament voted through a bill that could see journalists and outlets slapped with huge fines for violating a code of conduct.

NAIROBI - Kenya's media reacted with shock and outrage Friday after parliament voted through a bill that could see journalists and outlets slapped with huge fines for violating a code of conduct.

In a late-night sitting Thursday, MPs voted to set up and appoint a new Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal with the teeth to impose penalties of up to 20 million Kenyan shillings (173,000 euros, S$291,781.80) on offenders and even bar journalists from working.

The bill, which is pending approval by President Uhuru Kenyatta, would also herald strict controls on radio and television broadcasts, with stations obliged to ensure that 45 per cent of programme content and advertising is locally-made.

In a furious attack on the bill, The Daily Nation newspaper said the bill "puts the country in the same ranks with Zimbabwe, Cuba, Ethiopia and Kuwait" and had set Kenya "firmly on the path of regression into the era of darkness."

"In one dramatic swoop, parliament has written away the media's rights," wrote the paper, a pillar of Kenya's burgeoning and vibrant independent media.

"It is a frightening place, and it is valid to ask: what is there to prevent Parliament from simply sweeping away the independence of the judiciary tomorrow?" the paper said, challenging the bill as unconstitutional.

"This law is draconian and very punitive and we reject it," said Cyrus Kamau, managing director for Capital Group - home to CapitalFM, one of Kenya's most respected independent radio stations and news websites.

He said the new media tribunal "will always be biased because it's an extension of the government," and that restrictions on content and advertising would damage Kenya's place in the global economy.

"I hope the president will listen to us, and we appeal to him to reject this bill and return it to the MPs," he said.

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