Kenya Thursday joined the league of countries with repressive media laws in the world.
The passage of the Media Council Bill puts Kenya among the likes of Zimbabwe, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran and Kuwait where media freedom is curtailed.
The Bill pulls back the gains the country has made in ensuring freedom of the Press which is crucial for democracy, transparency and accountability.
Freedom of the Press is vital for journalists to do their work without fear.
Sections of the Bill empower the Cabinet Secretary to dissolve the current Media Council, declare vacancies and then select the panel to interview candidates.
In many countries with draconian media laws, journalists have been jailed and cases against editors and reporters are many.
The International Federation of Journalists says journalists in countries with draconian laws work under the constant threat of jail.
Many of the countries permit the jailing of journalists for undermining the reputation of the state, the president, the monarch or the religion.
The laws are also used to suppress reporting of corruption or scrutiny of government actions.
In Yemen, Abdul-Karim al-Khaiwani was jailed for links with terrorists and then released on a presidential pardon in September following months of protests.
In Iraq, the shock assassination of the president of the Iraqi Union of Journalists and subsequent assassination attempts against his successor, recalls the continued pressure under which journalists work despite the significant improvement in overall security.
In Palestine, five journalists were killed by Israeli military during the Gaza invasion. Palestinian journalists have also been victims of political disputes between Fatah and Hamas with both sides guilty of arbitrarily imprisoning representatives of opposing media.
Iran remains the biggest prosecutor of journalists with 10 cases recorded. These figures are down from last year which is a reflection of the effectiveness of the control of the authorities and the limited number of independent titles remaining.
The recent jailing of former US journalist Roxana Saberi, who received an eight-year jail sentence on spying charges by the closed revolutionary courts, highlights the precarious and risky business of journalism in Iran.
There are quite a number of challenges besetting Zimbabwe’s media industry, from harassment, threats, detention of media personnel, not forgetting the safety of journalists and restrictive laws that have had an influence on their security.
In Ethiopia, the law provides for the jailing of journalists who make reporting errors, allows the government to confiscate foreign newspapers and gives the authorities 30 days to answer journalists’ questions.
On Sunday, President Kenyatta put the media on the spot, saying they had a role to play in national security.
“We must acknowledge and take responsibility for the challenges that still threaten our security.... The threats require a new level of national collaboration that brings together keen diligence of government organs, ordinary Kenyans and even the media,” the President said.
The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy condemned the new measures on the media saying they reversed the gains made in the Constitution.
“We have seen an unlawful and unconstitutional invasion of the freedom of the media and the freedom of expression. These two freedoms are the basic pillar and foundation of an open and democratic system of government,” Cord said in a statement. The coalition said it would not allow the carpet to be rolled back against “this fundamental democratic space that Kenyans fought for valiantly for so many years.”
“The government should come out clearly both in its conduct and management of public affairs whether it supports and is prepared to protect these basic freedoms,” Cord said.