The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has warned that the draft guidelines rolled out Wednesday on the use of social media during elections should not affect how media reports the exercise.
The organisation noted that the guidelines should not close spaces for public debate as offered by social media platforms.
“The guidelines as currently drafted could constrict the Kenyan press from reporting and commenting freely on political events,” said CPJ Africa programme coordinator Angela Quintal.
“With elections scheduled to take place in August, we urge authorities to ensure that journalists are free to share news and opinion across all platforms without fear of reprisal,” she added.
On Wednesday the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) released guidelines on the use of social media during the election period, which if contravened would attract legal action.
NCIC chair Francis Kaparo, said the guidelines are looking to prevent the transmission of undesirable political content using text messages and social media posts.
The guidelines also intend to bar political messages that are offensive, abusive, insulting, misleading, confusing, obscene or profane language.
Mobile phone operators have been given the power to stop circulation of the messages judged to be inappropriate as per the guidelines, while anyone who wants to send political messages should get permission 24 hours prior to the act.
Contravening the proposed regulations which also touch on hate speech could see one attracting a legal fine of up to Sh1 million, while publishing inciting material could get one up to three years in jail or a Sh5 million fine.
While ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru was quick to say that the ministry of Interior will be involved in prosecuting those who error, he said the rules only seek to ensure bad things don’t happen.
“We have held several consultative meetings and have ensured we have both online and offline teams monitoring the political messaging,” Mr Mucheru said.
But CPJ questioned why they did not involve parliament in the drafting of the regulations and the subsequent actions if contravened.
CPJ also quoted Linus Kaikai, chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild who said: “We are very concerned when a blanket declaration is made because it can affect the work of legitimate, self-regulating media”.
But even though Mr Kaikai mentions ‘self-regulating media”, it should be noted that several studies conducted on the 2007/2008 post-election violence draw the conclusion that some media houses, especially radio stations, contributed to fuelling the violence.