Kenyatta, Kagame under fire at media conference

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Cape Town. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has been criticised for signing into law legislation giving the state the power to decide what journalists report.

Similar attention was given to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for limiting media freedom and called on him to allow independent journalists to work freely.

The criticism came during the official opening of the International Press Institute 43rd world congress in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday.

In her formal report to the congress on the state of press freedom worldwide, IPI executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie told delegates of increasing attacks on journalists.

“Kenya is another concern. President Kenyatta has signed legislation … the Information and Communication Act … that we believe would lead to state control of news and information during emergencies, plus give the government the power to perform functions currently executed by the country’s Media Council.”

She said IPI had protested the new measures by the Kenya government and acknowledged that local journalists had moved to the courts to fight for their freedom.

“Kenyan journalists are not about to have their rights trampled on. They’ve filed legal challenges against the Information and Communication Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional,” Ms McKenzie said.

On Rwanda, the IPI boss said as the world marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide, even though some local media played a “terrible role in fanning ethnic hatred in 1994”, reasonable space must be curved for free expression.

“While there is no defence for such hate speech, we are concerned that the Rwandan authorities use that experience to maintain tight control over today’s news media and call on the government to allow independent media to flourish.” Globally, Turkey was identified as one of the worst countries for press freedom and the world’s leading jailer of journalists with 44 currently behind bars.

“Media owners’ economic dependence on government connections continues to stifle reporting in Turkey, as did the reported attacks by police on dozens of journalists as they covered protests that erupted last year following the brutal treatment of demonstrators opposing the demolition of Gezi Park in Istanbul,” she said.

IPI tracked 119 journalists killed in the line of duty in 2013, a slight decline from the 133 who died in 2012. So far in 2014, more than 20 have either been killed while on the job or died while on duty.

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