The Kenya government has published amendments to the Communications Act
which will delete a controversial clause that empowers the State to
raid broadcasting stations, writes Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
The clause has been a major hindrance to press freedom and has led to several exchanges between the media and the ministry for information, with the latest being this year.
The bill was passed by Parliament and President Mwai Kibaki signed it into law despite spirited protests against a clause the industry felt rolled back gains made in the struggle for a free media.
The clause allows the minister in charge of internal security to order police to raid broadcasting houses, and to destroy or confiscate equipment on vague declarations of threats to public safety.
But the section is set to be expunged in terms of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill published recently by Attorney-General Amos Wako.
The bill follows negotiations chaired by Prime Minister Oginga Odinga between the information and communications ministry, represented by Minister Samuel Poghisio and Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo, and the industry represented by officials of the Kenya Union of Journalists, Journalist Association of Kenya (JAK), the Kenya EditorsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ Guild and the Media Owners Association.
Under the proposed amendments to the controversial law, equally contentious provisions giving the government power to vet and control content broadcast on TV and radio will also be removed.
Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Instead the regulatory function will be handled by a proposed Broadcast Content Advisory Council.
According to the proposed amendments, the council will comprise the Permanent Secretary in the Information ministry, and six other members to be appointed by the information minister.
The six shall include two members picked by the Media Council, one member from the Law Society of Kenya and another member nominated by the Attorney general.
The latter shall however not be a civil servant. Members named to sit in the council must have knowledge and experience in media matters, broadcasting, communication or cultural issues, according to the proposed amendments.
They should be free of conflict of interest and have no financial or any other interest that could influence their discharge of duties.
In the same gazette notice, the Attorney General is proposing amendments to the Media Act 2007 to provide for the funding of the Media Council by the Treasury.
Monies provided to the council to enable it to discharge its mandate shall be subject to audit every year by the Controller and Auditor General in line with the Public Audit Act.
Veteran journalist and new treasurer of the Editors Guild David Makali welcomed the move, terming it a compromise.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThough not satisfactory, it offers sufficient checks in the present circumstances. We only hope that persons appointed to the council shall be competent and that the appointments shall be done in consultation with the industry players,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Mr Makali said in a statement.
The treasurer at the Journalist Association of Kenya (JAK) Eric Odour also agreed it was a positive move but added that, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œnow itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s time to erase the oppression and write freedom, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s time to move the Freedom of Information Bill in Parliament.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Although published the move has to await prioritization in Parliament by the house business committeeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦a process that can take up to a year depending on political will.