Bloggers now face Ksh. 20 million fine for aggrieving another person following the appointment of the Chairperson of the Communication and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal. Hon.  Mr. William Oketch was appointed as the Chairperson of the Communication and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal through a gazette notice, paving way for the establishment of the whole Tribunal.

Following his appointment, the Ministry of ICT also published a call for applications to join the Tribunal as members.

According to the Media Council (Amendment) Act 2013, a chairperson is nominated by the Judicial Service Commission. He or she should be a person qualified for appointment as a judge of the High Court of Kenya and who shall also possess experience in communication policy and law. The Tribunal also has at least four persons possessing knowledge and experience in media, telecommunication, postal, courier systems, radio communications, information technology or business practice and finance, and who are not in the employment of the Government, the Media Council or the Authority.

Bloggers who have resoundingly declined to be journalists because of the legal restrictions of being a journalist can now face stiff penalties for wrongs done to others. The Act says “a person aggrieved by any publication or conduct of a journalist or media enterprise”, may make a written complaint to the Tribunal setting out the grounds for the complaint, nature of the injury or damage suffered and the remedy sought.

Bloggers are publishers hence this law will affect them. In addition, some of them are media enterprises by the fact that they write news, have employees and registered as media enterprises.

The Act impose a fine of not more than Ksh. 20 million on any media enterprise and a fine of not more than Ksh. 500, 000 on any journalist adjudged to have violated the Act. This means that only when the bloggers are legally defined, expressed or proven to be media enterprises will the law apply. But they are off the hook when they are not journalists because the fine does not apply to them.

The Tribunal can also order the offending party to publish an apology and correction in such manner as the Tribunal may specify; order the return, repair, or replacement of any equipment or material confiscated or destroyed; make any directive and declaration on freedom of expression; issue a public reprimand of the journalist or media enterprise involved; order the offending editor of the broadcast, print or online material to publish the Tribunal’s decision, in such manner as the Tribunal may specify.

But the Tribunal can also hear anything done against a journalist or media enterprise that limits or interferes with the constitutional freedom of expression of such journalist or media enterprise. This paves way for bloggers to also take persons or institutions to the Tribunal when their constitutional limits have been interfered with.

A complainant needs to disclose to the Tribunal the complainant’s name and address and other information relating to the complainant’s identity that the Tribunal may reasonably require.

However, the Tribunal may keep information provided by a complainant confidential if there are special circumstances to do so, or the Tribunal considers it is in the complainant’s interests to do so; or accept an anonymous complaint concerning an issue of public interest or where no clearly identifiable person or group is affected.

The members of the Tribunal will hold office for a period of three years, but are eligible for reappointment for one further term for a period not exceeding three years.

But the appointment of Hon. Oketch was warmly received in media circles as he has previously served as Media Council of Kenya Complaints Commission. He is a Resident Magistrate/Deputy Registrar at the Makadara Law Courts, Nairobi.