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US concern over `restrictive` Kenya media bill

The United States has voiced concern about a controversial bill in Kenya that would see journalists and media outlets policed by a special quasi-government body.



Washington: The United States has voiced concern about a controversial bill in Kenya that would see journalists and media outlets policed by a special quasi-government body.

Despite amendments to the bill passed in October but sent back to parliament with some presidential changes, Washington remained concerned it could "discourage public debate," a US official said yesterday.

"It will undermine the progress Kenya has made to promote freedom and give the government undue power over the media," Will Stevens, spokesman for the State Department`s Bureau of African Affairs, said in a statement said.

The most contentious elements of the bill, which still needs to be signed into law by President Uhuru Kenyatta, remain despite his changes, including the power to impose up to 20 million Kenyan shillings (USD 231,000) in fines on news organisations.

The US urged "the Kenyan government and lawmakers to continue to consult with media representatives to reach agreement on ways to amend this restrictive legislation at the earliest opportunity," Stevens added.

The bill has sparked furious reactions from Kenya`s vibrant independent media, with front pages declaring that democracy and free speech were under attack.

It was passed a day after the Kenyan parliament blocked another controversial piece of legislation that would have set caps on overseas funding to non-governmental organisations.

Stevens said the United States had been encouraged "that the national assembly rejected amendments that would have limited the ability of civil society to provide assistance to give voice to Kenya`s citizens."

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