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Nairobi - Kenya's media reacted with shock and outrage on Friday after parliament voted through a bill that could see journalists and outlets slapped with huge fines for violating a code of conduct.
In a late-night sitting on Thursday, MPs voted to set up a government-appointed Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal with the teeth to impose penalties of up to 20 million Kenyan shillings (173 000 euros, $234 000) on offenders and even bar journalists from working.
The bill, which is pending approval by President Uhuru Kenyatta, would also herald strict controls on radio and television broadcasts, with stations obliged to ensure that 45 percent of programmes and advertising is locally-made content.
In a furious attack on the bill, The Daily Nation newspaper said the bill “puts the country in the same ranks with Zimbabwe, Cuba, Ethiopia and Kuwait” and would take Kenya “back to the dark age”.
“In one dramatic swoop, parliament has written away the media's rights,” wrote the paper, part of Kenya's burgeoning and vibrant independent media.
“It is a frightening place, and it is valid to ask: what is there to prevent Parliament from simply sweeping away the independence of the judiciary tomorrow?”
According to The Star newspaper, the new bill will effectively hand the government “a stranglehold over the media”, while The Standard said democracy and free speech in Kenya had been “dealt a major blow” and lambasted the bill as “draconian”.
The passing of the bill comes amid a string of measures to reinforce national security in the wake of the September's attack by Islamist gunmen on the Westgate shopping mall.
Kenya media drew the ire of authorities by broadcasting security camera footage of troops who were dispatched to the scene of the attack purportedly robbing the upmarket mall.
Police chief David Kimaiyo reacted by summoning two journalists and an executive from KTN television for questioning, although the summons was retracted following a media outcry. - AFP