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If the Media Bill is Passed…

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The Jamhuri Day protests and subsequent arrests got me thinking: If President Kibaki does ratify the legislation, how might the Kenyan media go about protecting itself?

The sweeping powers given to the Minister for Internal Security to raid premises, coupled with the weakening of the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) and the lack of judicial oversight mean that it’s only natural that the Fourth Estate are worried.

The Media Bill could by used by vengeful politicians to settle scores, or to shut down dissent. Having the threat of being pulled from the air or the printers could make editors and their paymasters far more wary about chasing stories unfavourable to those in power. But if they are to continue to do so, they need to develop a strategy.

If I were a manager at Nation Media Group, I would be making myself very familiar with the procedures for getting information to Wikileaks, where a number of controversial Kenyan documents already reside. I would also be contacting the site’s administrators for assistance on how to keep contentious information beyond the reach of the government. I might also set up a parallel website on an out-of-country server where it is subject to a different legal regime.

For journalists, with the Bill possibly compelling them to name their sources, steps need to be taken to protect and preserve notes, and to anonymise sources when they are referred to. Meet sources face-to-face, rather than contact them on the telephone or by email. Perhaps arrange for a third party to store your notes for you, so that should your home or office be raided, there will not be anything the authorities might want to be confiscated.

I don’t mean to come over all Cold War underground, but this Bill was not borne of a concern for freedom of speech, nor did it come from a desire for more fair and impartial reporting. If the media is to remain as vibrant as it has become in the last few years, it needs to ensure that it does everything it can to stay out of the clutches of those who seek to silence it.

[Image by Borghetti]

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