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Controversial Kenya media bill signed into law

[JURIST] Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] on Friday signed a controversial media bill [press release] into law that gives power to a communication commission to regulate broadcasting with threats of fines or incarceration. The Communications Amendment Bill of 2008 [text, PDF] allows the minister of information to control aspects of broadcast content. Kibaki stated that his assent to the bill was based on the importance of Kenya's economic development and emphasized the importance of regulating all electronic transactions. Kibaki addressed concerns [Nation report] by saying "while press freedom is a cardinal pillar of democracy, it is a right that carries with it special duties and responsibilities." The original bill contains a portion passed by the Kenyan Parliament that would allow the shut-down of media outlets by declaring a state of emergency. Kibaki assured the public that the bill he signed did not contain such a clause.

The Media Owners Association (MOA) of Kenya has been outspoken [KBC report] on the passage of this bill. The MOA believes that the legislation will curtail freedoms that are important in maintaining the development of the nation. Press freedom has been a long-standing issue in Kenya. Last year Kibaki stressed the importance of a free press when he refused to sign [JURIST report] a bill that would have required journalists to disclose confidential sources.

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