THE Kenyan government and media are headed for a showdown, over new broadcast regulations gazetted last week,  writes Dennis Itumbi for jocoza.

The media fraternity argues that the government has re-introduced the new rules rejected in demonstrations by journalists last year and baptized them regulation laws.

The government on its part says the media has to be controlled and cannot be allowed to operate as if there is no rule of law.

Paul Muite, who is the counsel for the Media Owners Association (MOA), said Kenyans should reject the new laws because they have a hidden agenda; to muzzle the press.

Muite said that meetings between the ministry of Information, MOA and Prime Minister Raila Odinga resolved that an independent regulation body be formed because the government cannot be impartial when it is a victim of media attacks.

This is a battle we can't afford to lose because every government will apply this law selectively and trash the democratic gains made through the backing of the media, the lawyer told journalists at a press conference in Nairobi.

The former MP said discussions with the Prime Minister were not just to delete the clause which gave the state authority to raid media houses but the entire framework considered a threat to freedom of the press.
He said the draft constitution contains the issues of press freedom and wondered why secondary legislation should introduce draconian and harsh penalties to be supervised by the government.

"This is an attempt to cover up corruption and issues of bad governance constantly revealed by the press. We know there are offensive FM stations and the media is not against regulation but control," he added.

The new rules were presented as aiming to regulate sex talk on FM stations, but they cover many other issues, according to communication lawyer Jennifer Shamallah.

She notes, the new laws will seek to define how news is written and presented, how apologies should be crafted and how adverts should be run.

Muite agrees that the laws will also seek the banning of cross media ownership, censure content and setting rules for political coverage of elections.

The chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Communication, James Rege, said they would convene an urgent meeting between the MOA and the government to iron out the differences.

MOA has vowed to fight the newly gazetted laws, which they say were crafted in bad faith.

When the Gazette notice was published on Friday, Information and Communication PS Bitange Ndemo said that since the Kenya Communications (Broadcasting) regulations had taken effect from January 1, the media had to prepare to toe the line.

The laws state in part that a licensee shall generally ensure that no broadcast by its station contains offensive language and should not glorify violence, and bans cross media ownership.

Any person who contravenes the regulations shall be liable to a fine not exceeding a million shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.