Politics and policy
Media to give presidential aspirants equal airtime ahead of polls
Posted Thursday, June 21 2012 at 21:49
Privately-owned broadcast media have been roped into the legal demand that fair coverage be accorded to all political parties and candidates during electioneering.
Parliament has amended the Elections Act to bring private radio and TV stations in compliance with Section 108 of the Act that requires broadcasters to accord all candidates fair coverage in elections.
The Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament introduced amendments to the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Bill 2012 that the house passed yesterday.
The Bill, which has amended various sections of the elections law, is now awaiting Presidential assent.
Constitutional Oversight Implementation Committee (COIC) chairman Abdikadir Mohammed pushed through the amendment ensuring privately-owned television and radio stations set a side airtime for all candidates during election campaigns.
Section 108 of the Act, demands that all candidates and political parties participating in an election be allocated ‘reasonable airtime’ on State radio and television during the campaign periods.
Mr Abdikadir deleted the words “state-owned broadcasting media” and replaced it with the words “all broadcasting media” roping in non-State broadcasters.
The Mandera Central MP argued that air waves are public property making all broadcasters eligible to the regulation on fair coverage. Attorney-General Githu Muigai and Transport Minister Amos Kimunya unsuccessfully opposed the amendment.
“If we amend this section, it will extend to all commercial operators of radio and TV media outlets which are privately owned,” said Prof Muigai adding that the MPs were making amendments to the Elections Act, without specifying who will cover the costs of the airtime to be provided by private enterprises to political campaigns.
“I oppose this amendment and support the Attorney General because there is clear distinction in the Constitution of what is public funded and privately owned,” said Mr Kimunya.
Mr Kimunya said the constitution protects private property and that legislating to force private media houses to provide space for political campaigns without specifying who will foot the costs is to “deprive persons of their rights to freely conduct their businesses.”
“Passing this amendment will be like nationalising private assets without compensation,” Mr Kimunya said.
Trade minister Moses Wetangula argued that private enterprises dealing with mass media do not only sell news but also disseminate information which is important to the public including election coverage.
differing with his cabinet colleagues Moses Wetangula (Trade), Anyang Nyong’o (Medical Services), Dalmas Otieno (Public Service) and Mutula Kilonzo (Education).
“All media houses must be fair by providing reasonable airtime in the way they cover campaigns since airwaves are a national resource,” he said.
Prof. Nyong’o argued that the amendment sought would help extend the application of the the provisions of Article 108 to private broadcasting media that have a wider reach than the national broadcaster.