Reporters Without Borders is stunned to learn that President Mwai Kibaki signed the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008 into law today.
“This is a major step backwards in the history of press freedom in Kenya,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We have for weeks been joining Kenyan journalists in denouncing this bill's reactionary and repressive nature. We do not understand President Kibaki's decision, which will seriously undermine civil liberties in his country.”
“I have assented to the bill,” President Kibaki said in a statement issued late today. “I wish to reiterate the commitment of my government to the ideals of press freedom and democracy and assure the media and the public in general that we shall not roll back on the gains we have made in this regard. I however wish to appeal to the media to recognise that freedom must go hand in hand with responsibility. While press freedom is a cardinal pillar of democracy, this is a right that carries with it special duties and responsibilities.”
Also known as the “ICT Bill”, the new legislation provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences. It also gives the government, above all the information and interior ministries, authority over the issuing of broadcast licences and the production and content of news programmes.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, which is in a coalition government with President Kibaki's alliance, had said it would file a legal challenge to the law if Kibaki ratified it. “That is the party's position,” a spokesman said on condition of anonymity. “If the president ratifies this bill, the ODM will take it to the courts.”
12.12.2008 - President Kibaki urged not to sign draconian media bill into law
Reporters Without Borders has written to Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki urging him not to sign the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008 into law. Otherwise known as the ICT Bill, it was adopted by parliament on 10 December.
This is the text of the letter:
HE Mwai Kibaki,
President of the Republic,
Paris, 11 December 2008
Dear Mr. President
Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that defends press freedom worldwide, would like to share with you its concern about parliament's adoption yesterday of the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008, otherwise known as the ICT Bill.
As you are aware, this particularly draconian bill has sparked an outcry among Kenyan journalists and in the international community. If it is signed into law, it would, in our view, represent a big step backwards for press freedom in a country known for its diverse, outspoken and professional news media. Kenya would lose its status as a model country as regards the protection of freedoms. It would set a negative example which the predators of press freedom in Africa would undoubtedly exploit.
The ICT Bill violates all democratic standards by providing for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences. It also envisages the creation of a government-appointed “communications commission” that would be in charge of granting broadcast licences.
Article 86 of the bill gives the information minister the power to interrupt broadcasts, dismantle radio and TV stations and tap telephones, while the internal security minister, for his part, is empowered to seize broadcasting equipment without referring to any other authority.
Such police powers should not, in a democracy, be placed in the hands of politicians. It would represent a complete denial of the principle of the separation of powers and would give a formidable weapon to the enemies of the rule of law.
Furthermore, we are astonished that the bill would even give the information minister power to control programme content, as the commission he appoints would also be responsible for ensuring the “good taste” of broadcasts. It is not the job of any government minister to pass judgment on the quality of news and information, especially as the concept of “good taste” has no legal value.
We therefore call on you not to sign this bill into law. Your refusal to ratify this bill would send a very strong signal. It would demonstrate your respect for the Kenyan press and for the independent regulatory bodies, which we moreover urge you to strengthen.
We hope you will give this request your careful consideration.