Freedom of the press – update

Last month we shared the reaction of Kenyans and the international community to the newly passed “media bill that journalists say will curtail press freedom (BBC).”  The BBC reported yesterday that President Kabaki has now signed the bill and quoted him as saying that the bill will “safeguard our culture, moral values and nationhood.” Most observers fear the bill will serve as a gag to prevent the press from holding government accountable.

According to the Daily Nation (Nairobi), media advocates promised that, “the media would move to court to oppose the constitutionality of the new law and ensure that freedom of the Press is upheld.” They also made it clear that, “The media would not allow the Government to infringe on its independence and vowed to fight on until it is changed.”

Government is not unanimous on this issue. Although Parliament passed the Bill, the Nation notes that, “The Parliamentary Committee on Communications is going to come up with supplementary amendments on the offensive sections of the signed Bill once Parliament reconvenes, said its chairman, Mr James Rege on Friday.” Another angle is internal government “lack of harmony in the sharing of executive authority between President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who had opposed the Bill.”

One area where government needs to be held accountable is Global Fund support. The Principle Recipient for existing malaria grants is the Ministry of Finance and the sub-recipient is the Ministry of Health.  According to the most recent Round 4 Progress Report (August 2008), Kenya is not performing well in the area of malaria treatment. What if the Kenyan media were to publicize these readily available results to encourage better grant performance? Would bringing such problems into the public forum and investigating reasons for poor performance be seen by government as a threat to the “culture”?

Ensuring that malaria interventions reach all in need requires an open and accountable process.  Will the media in Kenya be able to promote this process?

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