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Media Council Criticizes Kinyua-led Security Committee Over “Retrogressive” Restrictions On Media Freedom

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group has criticized recent media regulations announced by the government amid rising political temperatures in the country.

The group comprising of bodies such as the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), Kenya Union of Journalists, Editors Guild among others, termed the regulations announced last week by the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) as retrogressive.

The committee led by Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua had last Wednesday indicated that all media outlets are to be held responsible for the content they broadcast or publish.

Kinyua criticised leaders saying unchecked utterances and political weaponization of public gatherings continue to undermine law and order within the country.

He stated that content aired or published must avoid tone that has ethnic content and incitement. The regulations were ratified during a Cabinet meeting held at Statehouse in Nairobi on October 8.

However, in a joint statement on Monday, the media groups termed constraints on media reporting of political events as interference in media operations.

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“We find this retrogressive and unnecessary interference in the work of the media and access to information by Kenyans, ” the statement reads.

The groups said that concerns raised by the committee can be handled through internal mechanisms.

“That is why we have been at the forefront in encouraging responsible and professional journalism, which has included regular peer review engagements, media information literacy, training programmes on conflict-sensitive reporting, hate speech, election reporting and coverage of communal, ethnic and political strife, ” the statement adds.

“We are conscious of the threat posed by reckless political activities and utterances and have enough internal mechanisms to deal with this. We recognise and are appraised that heightened political activity is showing evidence of inflammatory utterances that can serve to ignite tension and hatred in the country.

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“…Any breaches of the ethical guidelines in reporting under the current political environment are best addressed under the established mechanisms, including the Media Complaints Commission rather than by giving security agencies unchecked powers to control the media.”

The media groups asked the government to review the restrictions as some threaten editorial independence and amount to attempts to silence discordant voices that may seem to find expression through the media.

“The leadership of the media industry therefore urges that the National Security Advisory Committee statement and the Multi-Agency Team on Public Order terms of reference be reviewed to remove any that pose threats to media freedom as outlined in Section 6 of the Media Council Act, and the general freedom of speech, expression and communications enjoyed by all citizens, ” the statement adds.

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“Such orders if implemented will greatly erode the gains made in strengthening a free and responsible media industry in the country.”

Besides the media, the Kinyua-led committee also resolved that leaders intending to hold a public gathering must notify the Officer Commanding Station (OCS) of such intent 3-14 days before gathering.

This was a big blow to Deputy President William Ruto who was forced to cancel two functions he was scheduled to attend in Nyamira county on Thursday after police termed them illegal.

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