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President ratifies "reactionary and repressive" media law

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is stunned to learn that President Mwai Kibaki signed the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008 into law on 2 January 2009. "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 on 2 January. "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, said on 13 December that 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."

Updates alerts on the proposed media bill: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99498

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