Uhuru rejects Media Bill, sends it back to the National Assembly

President Uhuru Kenyatta has rejected the controversial media Bill saying it contained clauses that need to be reviewed.

In a 33-page memorandum circulated to MPs last evening, the President suggested alternatives to the clauses that needed to be altered.

Most of his concerns were about the appointment and removal of the members of the board of the Communications Authority. His suggested amendments would take power from MPs and give it to the Cabinet Secretary for Communications and the presidency.

He also cited a clause dictating the percentage of local content a broadcaster should have as offensive and proposed that the power to set the quota be given to the Communications Authority.

Among the clauses he cited as erroneous was one which gives the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal the power to fine media houses and journalists and to convert the fines into debts recoverable by the aggrieved party.

The Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill passed by Parliament had proposed fines of not more than Sh20 million for media houses and not more than Sh1 million for individual journalists who flout provisions of the law or of the professional code of conduct.

“Such matters are best dealt with in disciplinary or other similar processes. A cardinal principle of justice in criminal law is that a person should be penalised for offences whose particulars can be established with clarity,” he said.

The code of conduct does not meet this threshold and therefore, cannot attract penal consequences.

“The ceiling of one million shillings for journalists may also be onerous,” he said.

While he argued that the tribunal ought not to make decisions that have penal consequences, Mr Kenyatta then proposed to retain the provision to impose fines of not more than Sh20 million on media houses but reduced the ceiling on fines for individual journalists to Sh500,000.

Mr Kenyatta has also suggested the expansion of the mandate of the tribunal to deal with matters relating to telecommunication, courier or postal services, information, communication and technology.

On the appointment of the authority’s board, he proposed the reorganisation of the selection panel that would recruit the members of the board. MPs would also not be involved in the vetting of the board nominees if the President has his way.

Also in the President’s memorandum is a proposal to take away the National Assembly’s powers to vet the chairperson or member of the authority’s board.

“This requirement of vetting by the National Assembly interferes with the discretionary powers of the appointing authority,” he said and also recommended that the National Assembly cede control of the removal of the chairperson or a member of the authority’s board.

Mr Kenyatta’s refusal to sign the Bill into law marked a return to the negotiations that preceded the passage of the Bill on October 31 and the guarded reaction from the Editors’ Guild suggested that the matter could be far from resolved.

“We welcome the move but are wary that it has to be law by December 6, meaning heavy consultations have to be done by the weekend to fine tune it,” said Mr David Ohito, the guild’s vice chairman. “It is a reprieve for media and a good gesture from the Jubilee administration.”

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said that for the House to reject the recommendations of the President, it would require the approval of at least 233 MPs.

Only amendments to specific clauses would be considered, he said. -nation.co.ke

President Uhuru Kenyatta. President Kenyatta has rejected the controversial media law and sent it back to the National Assembly for reconsideration. FILE PHOTO

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