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Kenyatta vows to ensure controversial new media law is constitutional

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta reacts as he attends Mashujaa (Heroes) Day at the Nyayo National Stadium in capital Nairobi October 20, 201
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta reacts as he attends Mashujaa (Heroes) Day at the Nyayo National Stadium in capital Nairobi October 20, 201

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told journalists on Saturday not to panic over a new media law which critics say will muzzle the press in East Africa's biggest economy, saying he will veto it to ensure it is constitutional.

Kenyan media and opposition politicians say the new rules passed by parliament will stunt democracy in a country which currently enjoys broad press freedoms. Several nations tightly control news reporting in other parts of East Africa.

Kenyatta asked journalists to report more responsibly, but said he would closely examine the law, which will only become effective once he signs it.

"I shall look at the bill once it is forwarded to me with a view to identifying and addressing possible grey areas to ensure the new media law conforms to the constitution," a statement from the presidency said, quoting Kenyatta at a public rally near the capital Nairobi.

Critics of the bill say the new rules would curb investigative reports on corruption. Some media groups have threatened to go to court to block the law.

The bill envisages fines of up to 1 million shillings ($11,700) for an individual or 20 million shillings for media outlets if they break a code of conduct to be drawn up by a government-appointed tribunal.

The bill also says that locally produced content, including advertising, should be a minimum of 45 per cent, which media executives worry could hurt revenue.

Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Kenyatta's defeated rival for the presidency, urged him to throw out the new law.

"We can only ask him (Kenyatta) to have a change of heart and refuse to sign it because it is bad for the country and goes against the Constitution," Odinga said in a statement.

($1 = 85.4500 Kenyan shillings)

(Reporting by James Macharia; editing by Barry Moody)

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