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Kenyan president to review press law after outcry

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will review a press law passed by parliament that has sparked outrage among the media, his spokesman said Saturday, promising not to "gag" journalists.

If passed into law the bill, which must first be approved by Kenyatta, would lead to huge fines against journalists and media organisations that violated a code of conduct.

Kenyatta "will review (the) media bill to ensure it is consistent" with the constitution, and will "talk with stakeholders if changes (are) needed," spokesman Manoah Esipisu said in statement.

MPs voted in a late-night sitting Thursday to set up a new Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal with the teeth to impose penalties of up to 20 million Kenyan shillings (173,000 euros, $234,000) on offenders and even bar journalists from working.

The bill would also herald strict controls on radio and television broadcasts, with stations obliged to ensure that 45 percent of programme content and advertising is locally-made.

The president "says Kenya will not gag media, but media must embrace responsibility with same zeal it deploys in pursuit of freedom," Esipisu added.

The passing of the bill comes as Kenya takes a string of measures to reinforce national security in the wake of the September attack by Islamist gunmen on the Westgate shopping mall.

Kenyan media drew the ire of authorities by broadcasting security camera footage of troops who were dispatched to the scene of the attack purportedly robbing the upmarket mall.

Cyrus Kamau, managing director for Capital Group -- home to CapitalFM, one of Kenya's most respected independent radio stations and news websites -- called the law "draconian and very punitive."

The Nation newspaper splashed its Saturday front page with the bold headline "No, Mr President!".

Under the new bill, media houses can be fined up to 20 million Kenyan shillings and individual journalists up to one million, with the additional risk of being "de-listed", or barred from receiving official press accreditation. The tribunal also has the power to seize the property of an offender if a fine is not paid.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Kenyatta to block the bill entirely.

"This draconian bill realises the media's worst nightmare, where government makes itself both judge and jury of what journalists say and how they say it," said CPJ East Africa representative Tom Rhodes.

"President Uhuru Kenyatta must veto the bill and safeguard Kenya's vibrant press."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131102/kenyan-president-review-press-law-after-outcry