President Kibaki of Kenya signed into law a new bill which empowers the government to take action against the media on grounds it is protecting national security. The controversial Communications Bill 2008 the government is given powers to restrict the freedom of the media during a period of national emergency. Prime Minister Raila Odinga had promised the media the bill would not be signed by the president, but, apparently, President Kibaki decided to double-cross his own prime minister. Machaia Gaitho, chair of the Editors Guild, described the bill as “retrogressive” and said the president simply wanted a tool to “clamp down on democracy” even though all factions in the media opposed passage of such a restrictive bill.
Kibaki insists the bill allows economic development to proceed by giving the government power to deal with electronic transactions. “While press freedom is a cardinal pillar of democracy, this is a right that carries with it special duties and responsibilities. Press freedom must be counterbalanced with other freedoms and must at all times take into account the overriding interest and safety of Kenya.”
The president’s words match those of every tyrant who has used “national emergency” or the “safety of the population” to throttle the forces of democracy.