So our esteemed president has signed the Media bill into effect. While I can imagine a number of media houses shaking in their boots and amending their editorial guidelines, this should not be the same for blogs and websites hosted outside of Kenya.
While the Bill includes provision for state agents to censor the content of newspapers, radio and television stations, there are steps that independent journalists and bloggers can take to ensure that their voices continue to be heard.
Ignore the mainstream media; they are effectively hamstrung by an unspoken good behaviour agreement. It would be interesting to see which outlet will be the first to publish an editorial critical of the government, but I personally won’t be waiting with bated breath. Those who wsh to highlight official corruption or misdeeds must now reach out to international media outlets to get information out, and also take steps to ensure that they stay on the right side of a number of laws.
First, for anyone thinking of publishing inflammatory material, do your best to make sure that it is true. A libel or defamation suit will bankrupt you, and you can be charged in a variety of jurisdictions, no matter where you actually live and work. Modifiers such as “allegedly” and “supposedly” are useful but can only do so much. Check and double-check your sources.
Also make sure that you put yourself beyond the reach of the Kenyan authorities. In a previous post on the subject we metioned the possibility of placing information on Wikileaks, but there are a number of similar websites, such as Indymedia, that could also serve the same purpose. Not only are these sites based outside Kenya, but if they do pick up your story they probably also have legal counsel who can ensure that you don’t get into any trouble.
Finally, it does look as though civil servants could actually become the most important media players around. Think about it: who has access to briefing papers, minutes of meetings and high-level discussions in various ministries? Who would be the first to know if a minister were fiddling his expenses or keeping a mistress on the side with funds earmarked for developments. These state employees are now probably more important than than they realise. If you are lucky enough to have one of these as a source, cultivate and protect them. Use anonymous emails to communicate with them, ensure that any notes you take cannot be easily consficated, and never give them up to colleagues, bosses or anyone else who might compromise them.
This media bill might actually be quite fun. We can start playing Spy Games with our own government. Who knows? We might actually win.
[Image by Antoon’s Foobar]