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Kenya media welcomes law review

President Mwai Kibaki
President Kibaki signed the law despite opposition from his prime minister

The Kenyan media has cautiously welcomed President Mwai Kibaki's move to review a contentious media law, just days after he signed the bill.

The president directed the attorney general and information minister to consider amendments to the legislation proposed by members of the media.

Their recommendations will be submitted to the cabinet for consideration.

Wednesday's move came a day after the media threatened court action against the law, criticised as a press gag.

The Kenyan Communications Amendment Bill, which the president approved on 2 January, gives the state power to raid media houses and control broadcast content.

Correspondents also say the law would penalise media infractions with heavy fines and prison terms and give the government sole discretion in granting broadcast licences, as well as control of programme content and broadcasts.

'Underhand tactics'

An editorial in the Daily Nation newspaper said "it appears wiser counsel has prevailed".

Security personnel drag away a Kenyan journalist protesting against the media bill as President Mwai Kibaki delivers a speech on Independence Day last month
Journalists said the new law amounted to a gag on the press

But it added: "There is reason for caution. Since the contentious bill was first published in the middle of last year, there have been endless consultations that eventually led to nowhere."

"It would be in the best interest of all if, in the light of the president's directive, there were no more underhand tactics in the next stage of negotiations," it added.

An editorial in the Standard newspaper said: "The media appreciates this show of goodwill and is prepared to work tirelessly... to find solutions to the impasse."

Correspondents say the president may have been concerned his party was losing support to its coalition partners from the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), who were also his bitter rivals in the disputed elections.

ODM leader Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who ran against Mr Kibaki for president in December 2007, has joined widespread opposition to the legislation, whose critics also include press freedom groups and the US government.

ODM officials earlier this week held crisis talks, claiming the president had failed to consult the prime minister over the media law, as well as about other important decisions on electoral reform and new ambassadors.

The row over the bill has made public a rift in Kenya's unity government, which was set up last year in the peace deal that brought an end to post-election ethnic bloodshed that left 1,500 people dead and 300,000 homeless.

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