Showdown in Nairobi

December 22, 2008

If journalists or aspiring journalists out there want a little inspiration, they should look to Nairobi where reporters are on the streets challenging a newly passed communications bill.

The adjective used here in all the papers is “draconian” as in “draconian bill”because it gives the government the power to raid newsrooms and seize, that’s right, seize broadcasting equipment during a national emergency in the interests of “public safety and tranquility.”

It also says that the government can dictate what programmes the broadcasters should air. Not that this bill got overwhelming support. A gang of 30 MPs qualified as a quorum out of national assembly of 222 members and rammed this bill through.

Best guess here is that President Kibaki won’t sign it because the media all hate it, the polls show something like 90% opposition, and it’s not a good time to be projecting this image of Kenya to a world that sees this place as the land of Barack Obama.

Yet the reporters are taking no chances. They were on the streets last week to protest. The police used tear gas against them, and arrested six.

Back on the streets earlier today, several reporters told us that they weren’t going to protest again today but said it was time that their media owners got into the struggle and joined them on the streets.

They announced a joint march with “civil society” next Monday unless the President rejects the bill. These aren’t aggregators or websites in action: these are brave journalists not only reporting the story but putting themselves on the line on the streets of Nairobi.

Slideshow above of the Independence Day protests in Nairobi from mentalacrobatics’.