Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a controversial media bill in December seems to clearly infringe upon the rights and freedom of journalists and news organizations. The bill would deny the press freedom of speech through heavy censorship. This act shocked many Kenyans, especially journalists, and the many news organizations affected.

Since the Republic of Kenya gained independence from the British colonial government in 1963, the media has depended on freedom of press without sanctions. Their objective guidelines founded in honesty have been widely exercised without any question as to their integrity. Kenyan investigative journalists are not left behind; they have enjoyed freedom of the press and speech, evidenced by the vivid narratives they produce frequently on current political issues. The media bill will change all that.

Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists writes that “This draconian bill realizes the media’s worst nightmare where government makes itself both judge and jury of what journalists say and how they say it. President Uhuru Kenyatta must veto the bill and safeguard Kenya’s vibrant press.” The committee opposing the bill was set to determine how to counter or propose amendments to the bill.

The newly amended media bill has resulted in self-censorship in most media outlets. Journalists are now cautious of what news they report and how they report it.

Kenyan students on the Principia College campus have expressed trepidation about this development in their home country.

“I think the Kenyan government has overreacted about this media bill,” freshman Grace Njogu said. She also noted that Kenya is a democratic country, and everyone has the right to freedom of speech and to be informed as long as the information does not cause a breach of peace.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta is taking Kenya back to the dark ages when media was under authoritative government and all its publication and mainstream were strictly guarded and supervised. We are past that, and the president should reconsider his actions,” sophomore Kevin Lubuya said. Many Kenyans think gagging the media will allow corruption and dirty politics to reign again in the country.

According to the Kenyan Standard Digital, “Article 34 of the Constitution spells out that freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media is guaranteed, and expressly bars the State from exercising control over or interfering with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium.”

However, some Kenyans are in support of the amended media bill. “The president has done a good job by signing this media bill because it will help many journalists and media houses to reconsider what news they air before releasing news that would impart the public negatively,” Kenyan political analyst Paul Ofisi said. He also noted that journalists have been extensively abusing the press freedom and their careless reporting behaviors have cost the country some innocent loss of lives. He cited the 2007-8 post-election violence in Kenya as media propagated.

Whether the bill is simply a reaction irresponsible journalism, many are wary of it as a sign of an emboldened and perhaps dangerous government.

Image courtesy of Julia Suber