THE Kenyan government and media are locked in yet another showdown, this time round on the issue of frequencies and the role of the Media Council in self-regulation, writes Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
Though media players are divided over the merits of a new rule dubbed 'one frequency per spot' they are unanimous that the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) should not have any role in vetting programmes.
Already Media lobby groups, journalists, editors and media owners have scheduled meetings throughout the week to respond to draft regulations that will force some of the major broadcasters to surrender frequencies already in their possession.
The new rules also bar interviews with minors "without the consent of the guardians" seen as a big blow in the coverage of child labour, child trafficking and the Female Genital Mutilation campaign.
Those supportingÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â the frequency per spot idea argue that "the new rules basically follow modern trends, with the regulations seeking to determine broadcast content, technology, advertising, ownership and public interest issues."
But what is most contentious is blanket proposals to control offensive language, blasphemy and sexual matters.
"That is madness, government is looking for avenues to arrest journalists and presenters through ambiguous clauses, and why are they taking over the role of the Media Council established for regulatory purposes?" Journalist Association of Kenya Treasurer Eric Odour asked.
"Some issues should be left to self-regulation, let government keep off the fourth estate, how do you criminalize a talk show through a ridiculous clause like blasphemy, soon we will be told criticizing government is blasphemy, or offensive language. Let's define terms and roles of institutions here,"Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Odour said.
Interestingly the draft rules – copies of which have been leaked to a number of journalists via email – also have rules to guide news reporting. This is seen asÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a clear attempt to overlook the role of the media council. For instance, CCK will have powers to punish anyone breaching basic rules such as right of reply, fairness and even-handed treatment of news.
"Lets be very clear we will not take such rules with our heads bowed, we will fight to the end, how do we criminalize journalism? Government has better challenges than the ones they are now pretending to address," Odour told journalism.co.za.
The latest move by government is the latest in a protracted battle with journalists over self-regulation in the last two years.