Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has told journalists in the country not to panic over a new media law which critics say will muzzle the press in East Africa’s biggest economy, saying he will veto it to ensure it is constitutional. Kenyan media and opposition politicians say the new rules passed by parliament last week, will stunt democracy in a country which currently enjoys broad press freedoms. Several nations in other parts of East Africa tightly control news reporting.
Kenyatta asked journalists to report more responsibly, but said he would closely examine the law, which will only become effective once he signs it. “I shall look at the bill once it is forwarded to me with a view to identifying and addressing possible grey areas to ensure the new media law conforms to the constitution,” a statement from Kenyatta’s office said, quoting the Kenyan leader while at a public rally near the capital Nairobi. Critics of the bill say the new rules would curb investigative reports on corruption. Some media groups have threatened to go to court to block the law.
The bill envisages fines of up to a million Kenyan shillings (approx. £7,344) for an individual or 20 million Kenyan shillings (approx. £146,884) for media outlets if they break a code of conduct to be drawn up by a government-appointed tribunal. The bill also says that locally produced content, including advertising, should be a minimum of 45 per cent, which media executives worry could hurt revenue. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Kenyatta’s defeated rival for the presidency, urged him to throw out the new law. “We can only ask him (Kenyatta) to have a change of heart and refuse to sign it because it is bad for the country and goes against the Constitution,” Odinga said in a statement.
Kenyan media organizations had urged President Kenyatta to veto the bill which they said could sharply limit press freedom. The measure passed by parliament on Thursday would make journalists subject to restrictions and large fines. The Kenyan press bill will create a Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal with power to impose fines of up to £150,700 on news organizations that violate its code of conduct for journalism practices. The tribunal could also slap individual reporters with fines of more than £6,279 for violating its rules.