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Kenya’s New Media Law Could Push Authentic Journalism To Social Media

The last few months have been a roller-coaster of sorts for the media in Kenya as they pushed to have a ‘draconian” media bill amended and expunged by Lawmakers. Their efforts and the general public’s outrage all came to naught last week when President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the media bill by signing it into law. Even as Kenya’s media push to have the new media law overturned in court it means that its more or less done and dusted.

The major concerns around the new media law are the punitive measures that have been put in place that would effectively muzzle media houses and journalists in how they prepare and deliver their news reports. In particular, according to media law, a media house can be fined up to Kes. 20 million for news reports that are considered to be unlawful. At the same time, journalists can be individually fined up to Kes. 500,000 if their coverage is considered unlawful too. In a nutshell, the deterrents are pretty epic should a media house or journalist consider publishing anything that is considered unlawful or irresponsible by the Kenyan Government.

Firstly, I am a little surprised that the Kenyan blogosphere has been remarkably mute with regards to the new media law – either currently or over the past couple of months. Perhaps its because the media law seems to more or less explicitly target (traditional?) media houses with their long standing position as being ‘authoritative’ and the massive ‘reach’ they have on a nationwide and global basis? Could it also be that bloggers in Kenya see themselves as ‘immune’ to the new media law? This is obviously not entirely true since Kenyan bloggers and others on social media like Facebook and Twitter have been arrested for making controversial statements during the last few years.

Going forward, since traditional media houses will (probably?) have to seriously moderate how they do their reporting in light of the new media law, I have a prediction that this could end up being the moment that blogging and social media broadly becomes the main outlet for the most objective and unbiased news reporting in Kenya. It goes without saying that controversial news will get out whether the Kenyan Government likes it or not thanks to social media in light of the new paradigm. I can see anonymous bloggers and social media ‘cognoscenti’ leading the charge in this respect. It would be extremely hard for the Government to police them in this mode of news reporting and probably journalists themselves will seek out social media channels to reveal the true extent of their objective and unbiased news reporting – albeit anonymously.

In concluding, the major caveat in this new dispensation would be if the Kenyan Government were to mount major digital monitoring initiatives similar to the now notorious NSA in the US as well as those used by the Chinese Government. However, whatever the case, the rules of the game have changed from this point onwards and we all know how impactful social media has been redefining the status quo in terms of news alternatives on a global basis. Its highly conceivable that authentic news reporting could become ‘digital first’ and ‘social media driven’ on this basis in Kenya.

 

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