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Kenya defends new 'media gag' law

Kenyan journalists with gags. File photo
Some journalists fear the government is trying to gag them

The Kenyan government has defended a contentious media bill which critics say is intended to gag the press.

The Kenya Communications Amendment Bill, which was passed by parliament, gives the state power to raid media houses and control broadcast content.

Information Minister Samuel Poghisio insists that the government is committed to press freedom.

Kenya's press has feared for its independence since a 2006 raid on a TV station and newspaper offices.

The Standard and its sister KTN TV station were accused of inciting ethnic hatred.

The raids by armed and masked police officers followed a series of exposes about official corruption.

In May 2007, parliament passed a media bill that sanctioned tighter media controls and would have compelled journalists to reveal their sources.

Hundreds of journalists held a protest with their mouths symbolically shut with sticky tape, and the bill was later rejected by President Mwai Kibaki.

Responsibility

The BBC's Muliro Telewa in Nairobi says the new bill gives the minister for internal security the power to raid a media house, search its premises, dismantle broadcast equipment and take a station off air.

Media Council of Kenya chairman Wachira Waruru told the BBC that the new bill aims to kill the recently acquired press freedom.

Mr Poghisio said the government is merely trying to regulate the media and encourage responsibility.

During the violence that rocked the country after the 2007 elections, the government banned all live broadcasts and call-in shows citing national security.

"I want to allay fears that the government is out to gag the media. This country has made so much strides in this that we can never go back to where we were," he said.

Under the new bill, it will be illegal for an individual or company to operate broadcast stations and press publications.

Several media organisations own both TV and radio stations as well as newspapers and publications.

President Kibaki now has the power to reject or assent to the bill.

Kenya boasts one of the region's liveliest and most-developed media scenes.

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