Nairobi - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta plans to send back
to parliament a media bill critics say would stunt democracy in an African
nation with unusually broad press freedoms.
Critics said Kenyatta may have acted out of concern to avoid
a confrontation with Kenya's popular and vibrant media and any backlash from
the country's aid donors abroad.
Kenyatta, who was elected in March, had earlier this month
urged journalists not to panic after the initial outcry over the bill, saying
he would ensure it was constitutional.
"Even if the bill makes its way to the president,
through the formal laid-out channels, I can confirm that the president will
return the bill to parliament," presidential spokesperson Manoah Esipisu
said on Wednesday.
He said Kenyatta would demand that members of parliament -
which is dominated by his Jubilee coalition - ensure the legislation complies
with Article 34 of the constitution stating that the "freedom and
independence of electronic, print and all other types of media is
Critics say rules laid down in the bill would curb
investigative reports on corruption that plagues Kenyan public life and some
media groups threatened to go to court to block it. The bill outlines fines for
individuals or companies over code violations.
The constitution's Article 34 also allows for setting up an
independent body to regulate and monitor media standards, although any
formation of such a commission has also raised concerns that it could promote
Stringent audit measures
Activists say the Kenyan media keep an indispensable check
on corruption and other abuses of power, and serve as one of the few
institutions that hold public officials to account.
Rights activists say the media in countries near Kenya,
including Ethiopia, Uganda and Rwanda, are tightly controlled by the state
Another bill being drawn up by parliament, but which has
also provoked public criticism in its draft form, covers non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and the way they are funded.
Critics say the bill now under consideration could hurt NGOs
that seek to hold state authorities and others to account. Many Kenyan NGOs
receive support from Western or other donors.
Esipisu said Kenyatta would make his position clear when the
bill was drawn up. But he added: "NGOs always seek a vigorous audit of
funding available for government, political parties or other groups, and it
must really be obvious that similar stringent audit measures should be required
In addition, he said other democracies, such as India, had
NGO regulations in place which enhanced NGO transparency.