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04.01.2009 Kenya

Kenyan 'media gag' law approved

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Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has signed into law a media bill that journalists say will curtail press freedom.

The law gives the Kenyan authorities the power to raid media offices, tap phones and control broadcast content on grounds of national security.

Mr Kibaki said he had carefully considered the journalists' concerns but added press freedom must go hand in hand with responsibility.

He said the bill was crucial for Kenya's economic development.

In a statement, Mr Kibaki added that regulating the electronic media would promote and "safeguard our culture, moral values and nationhood".

The Kenyan Communications Amendment Bill gives the state power to raid media houses and control broadcast content.

Kenyan Media Owners' Association vice-chairperson Martin Kafafa told Nairobi's Kiss FM radio: "It is just paradoxical that he himself [Mr Kibaki], being a key beneficiary of press freedom, should now be signing a law that muzzles the press."

Kenya's government has insisted it is committed to press freedom but the country's media have 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.

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

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.

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

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