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I was horrified Thursday by Parliament’s secretive
and immoral efforts to take the country back to the
dark days of dictatorship.
As I write this, MPs have just passed a law which
takes our democracy many years into the past.
They have voted to shackle an otherwise vibrant and
largely responsible media because they do not have
the wisdom to see that an unfettered media are a
blessing, not a scourge.
I haven’t read the amendments, but from the
briefings I have received, MPs, in a hurried session,
amended the Kenyan Communication Bill to create a
parastatal which will be in charge of regulating the
media.
There will be a complaints commission whose
members will be appointed by the Cabinet secretary.
What this means, in practice, is that the government,
through the Cabinet Secretary will generally be in
charge of regulating the media.
Secondly, the Bill, which the President will most
likely sign, provides very severe punishment for
media houses and journalists if they breach a code of
conduct.
That code of conduct is of course written and will be
enforced by the government, through its complaints
commission. Heavy fines will be placed on individual
journalists, including being barred from practising
journalism.
Now, the MPs, who have taken the media fraternity
down the garden path, must be congratulating
themselves for their cleverness in hitting back at the
media which caused them untold suffering in the
course of seeking higher pay and cutting lucrative
deals.
I want to tell MPs that this unconstitutional Bill is
shortsighted and possibly also short-lived. In national
life, it is always a mistake to gerrymander the law to
suit momentary interests.
In the last government, it was alleged that ODM used
various devices to influence the creation of
constituencies in a way that was most generous to
the Rift Valley, and to some extent, Western and
Nyanza, but very mean to Eastern.
Come the election in 2013, Rift Valley was lost and
Western was so-so. Only a chunk of Eastern stood
with ODM. And so, if the reports were true, ODM
created a monster which ate it at the election.
MPs need to know that life is not just about salaries.
As national leaders, they must care for more than
just their stomachs and a need to settle scores.
Leadership requires an ability to rise above base
instincts and to allow one’s actions to be guided by
wisdom rather than village-idiot instinct.
For the rest of us, free media are our guarantee of
rights and watchdog against an avaricious,
destructive and war-mongering political class.
All the problems we have as a country today,
including the cringe-inducing farce playing out in the
international arena, is the direct result of the
foolishness, thirst for power and greed of our leaders.
Of course we also play a part in being so tribal as to
be incapable of rational thought, but the engine of
our troubles is the people we have elevated above us.
Left to themselves, politicians would bankrupt the
country and take us back to hunting and gathering.
Their blind desire for unearned wealth is the reason
Kenya is ranked among the most corrupt places on
earth.
But in every society, we can’t leave our welfare and
rights to the good nature of our leaders. Good-
natured people don’t succeed in politics.
In the face of relentless public scrutiny, even the best
among politicians would go rogue in a matter of
minutes. Everyone is on their best behaviour if there
is a danger of being found out.
By silencing the media, politicians know they can do
whatever they like with impunity. No one will ever
know.
Now, why is this law dangerous? I have been a
journalist all my life. I have attended six universities,
four internationally and two locally to learn about
journalism. I understand journalism from its
psychology to its institutional operations and I can
tell you that as a human endeavour, it cannot take
place under government supervision or under
institutional caveat.
And our free press has done more for our country –
fighting dictatorship, exposing corruption and
challenging the violation of human rights – perhaps
more than any other institution in our history.
Now Jubilee has taken that away.
mmathiu@ke.nationmedia.com

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