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PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL MEDIA BILL

Despite a concerted national and international campaign, including a letter signed by 28 IFEX members, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has signed into law a controversial media bill that imposes new restrictions on the press, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members.

"This is a major step backwards in the history of press freedom in Kenya," RSF 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," he added.

The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill 2008 provides for heavy fines and prison sentences for press offences. It also gives the information and internal security ministries the authority over the issuing of broadcast licences and the production and content of news programmes, as well as search and surveillance powers.

Dozens of protesters and journalists were arrested on 12 December during a demonstration against the proposed law.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga's own party, which is in a coalition government with President Kibaki's movement, said on 13 December that it would file a legal challenge to the law if Kibaki ratified the bill. The Editors Forum, to which IFEX member Media Institute belongs, has also threatened court action.

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99587/
- Media Institute: http://eastafricapress.net/
- IFEX joint letter: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99498/
- "IFEX Communiqué" on bill's passage through Parliament: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99409/
(7 January 2009)

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