The Star (Nairobi)

1 December 2012

Kenya: Parliament Avoiding Debate On Single Sourcing Media

The matter before the Speaker is not merely a quest for justice by small media houses but also protection of Kenyan society from impunity and ever-growing corruption everywhere.

The media has a primary responsibility to protect society from all corruption, including that from which it may benefit. The assumption here is that media can scream against others for corruption if it is itself clean.

If the media is itself guilty of the same crime it accuses others of, it will not have the moral courage, right or authority to admonish others for graft.

The other assumption is that for a society to survive, the media must guard society against external and internal enemies which are all capable of destroying it.

And if it is human to err, media as guards of society can themselves err and commit the same sins they protect society against. When that happens, who shall guard the guards?

In and ideal situation, media, like the church, should be a public utility, not a commercial entity and its primary duty is to serve society by informing, educating, entertaining and guarding society morally.

To achieve this, the media ought to be owned by the public society and should be run with tax money.But when media is privately owned, engages in commercial activities and endeavors to make profit to survive and prosper, it exposes itself to the sins of society and exposes society to the danger of internal rot and self destruction.

When society's media is privately owned, it loses its innocence and power to guard society and itself and begins to need guards to protect it against temptations of society.

It is at this point that media laws are made not just to protect media against external and internal enemies of corruption and illegalities but also to enforce professional regulations, ethics and observance of laws that all in society must obey or perish.

It is under the compulsion of this logic that on August 2, 2011, Small Media Owners Association (SMOA) drafted and took to Parliament's Committee on Equal Opportunities chaired by Ambassador Mohammed Affey, complaints accusing government ministries and private companies of breaking Public Procurement and Disposal Act by single-sourcing media advertisers and media houses of breaking the same law by being single-sourced illegally.

And yes, single sourcing by ministries and companies sounds a greater offence but media houses are held guiltier because they have oversight responsibility to protect law and society.

Other SMOA complaints ranged from government ministries and private companies advertising more to reach English speaking elites than Swahili speaking slum and rural folk that need information more and using questionable data to establish media monopolies and oligarchies to the ruin of small media houses.

Despite the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities holding two meetings with SMOA, media agencies, ministries of Public Health and Medical Services and Ministry of Information and Communication which is in charge of the media, Parliament has done nothing to a report that was made from the meetings of the committee and was laid in the House on March 15, 2012. Worse, it looks like the Tenth Parliament will kill the report upon its expiry and dissolution.

Except for matters of extreme urgency, matters tabled before Parliament, would be best debated and resolved on the basis of "first come, first debated."

But so many issues have arisen, come to Parliament and been debated, well after the media report that one wonders whether Parliament has a sense of fairness at all or it is in its practice to casually discriminate between citizens of this country, serving some and ignoring others.

Since the days of Magna Carta, Parliament has always had the appeal of a protector of the people looking for a voice and justice.

Unfortunately, Kenyan Parliament was emasculated by the one party dictatorship and does not seem to have been fully liberated even after the restoration of multiparty democracy. Today, one-party dictatorship is no more.

But Parliament is either not free or no more a citadel of justice. There is no free Parliament that can so whimsically refuse to debate a matter whose express purpose is to transform media to cleanse society.

Or is it that given campaign time, no MP will dare question media for fear of reprisals? Given tax payers' money has gone into the investigations of this particular media/government problem, it cannot be right that Parliament chooses to ignore a matter as urgent and grave as this, merely for fear of media.

Yet officials of the committee now say the matter is no longer in their hands. The Speaker is already seized of the matter and only he can put the report to the House for debate.

But if these fears are unfounded, is there a chance that the Speaker of the National Assembly will allow debate of the media report before expiry of Parliament?

If the Speaker reads the Star newspaper there is a chance he will read this article and act. If not, the report is doomed. But reading the article alone will however not make the Speaker allocate time for debate of the media report.

He will need a sense of justice to do anything. The Speaker will also need to be a patriot who is pained to know somewhere somebody is breaking the law and should be stopped.

The media is the conscience of society. If it is allowed to profit from corruption or impunity, Kenya will remain in shackles forever.

The matter before the Speaker is not merely a quest for justice by small media houses but also protection of Kenyan society from impunity and ever-growing graft everywhere.

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