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The Media Institute takes action against the Kenya Communications Act 2008

Journalists, free expression advocates and media owners in Kenya got some bad news at the beginning of 2009, after they learned that President Mwai Kibaki had signed into law a contentious media bill that imposed new restrictions on the press. But thanks to an immediate and massive campaign launched by IFEX member the Media Institute and the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG), President Kibaki directed the Attorney General and the Information Minister to review the bill and facilitate its return to parliament for debate.

The Kenya Communications Amendment Act 2008, described as “reactionary and repressive,” set up a Communications Commission whose members are appointed by the Minister of Information and Communications. Under the act, the commission has the power to license broadcast media and draw up a programming code which all media would be required to comply with. The legislation also empowers the Minister of Information to issue directives “of general nature” on media content and to search and seize broadcast equipment, in addition to granting the Ministry the right to intercept and disclose telephone calls, emails and letters. The act also provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences.

Since the bill was passed by parliament last December, the Media Institute and the KEG joined forces to prevent President Mwai Kibaki from signing the bill into law. The Media Institute convened meetings of the guild and conducted research and analysis of the bill. Letters of protest with specific recommendations to the bill were sent to Members of Parliament, to President Kibaki and to Prime Minister Raila Odinga. On 17 December, 27 IFEX organizations also took part in this massive campaign by issuing a Joint Action statement appealing to the President not to give assent to the law.

When the bill was enacted into law despite their protests, the Media Institute built a coalition with Kenyan media editors and media stakeholders and took a more aggressive stance. “We identified those politicians and MPs who had been on the frontline of pushing for the law or were fighting the media and we set up a blanket blackout,” says David Makali, Director of the Media Institute. “The argument being that those individuals should not benefit from publicity of the very media they wanted to kill”.

All media except the state/public broadcaster enforced the blackout. The Minister of Information and other government officials who had been engaged in a vicious campaign against the media were the most affected by the boycott. There was zero coverage of their activities or statements for several days. The Kenyan government responded directly to this media strategy almost immediately. On 7 January, President Kibaki directed the Attorney General and the Information Minister to consider the amendments submitted by the media and facilitate the bill's return to parliament for discussion.

“This has been perhaps the most protracted campaign we have ever had against the government,” said Makali. “Although the boycott was condemned by some sections of the public as unfair, we think that desperate situations call for desperate measures and the media was employing its weapons.”

Learn more about the Media Institute:

Read the joint action 'Twenty-eight IFEX members call for president to reject draconian media bill':

By Juliana Marin, IFEX/CJFE Program Assistant.

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