Kenya President Signs Law With Tougher Rules for Reporters

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law a bill that journalists say threatens press freedom.

“He signed it last week,” Aden Duale, leader of the majority in the National Assembly, said today by phone from Nairobi.

The measure imposes a fine on journalists for breaching the professional code of conduct of 500,000 shillings ($5,776), while media companies face a 20-million-shilling penalty. The law also creates a tribunal to deal with press complaints.

“We have witnessed a slide back in Kenya, now we fear for the domino effect in the region,” Amadou Mahtar Ba, chief executive officer of the African Media Initiative, a United Nations-supported program to strengthen media on the continent, said in an e-mailed response to questions today. “We had expected bolder actions toward improved governance, transparency and accountability, all impossible to realize without a strong media in a friendly regulatory environment.”

David Ohito, vice chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild, has criticized the legislation, saying neither media companies nor journalists can afford such fines.

Kenya ranks 71 out of 179 nations on Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 Press Freedom Index, rising 13 places from a year earlier and ahead of other African nations including Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Uganda and Burundi. In July, Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto vowed to uphold press freedoms and said the media has a crucial role in the democratic nation.

Kenyatta is to stand trial in February for crimes against humanity related to violence after 2007 elections.

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