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Media freedom still under threat as MPs proceed with retrogressive law

27 August 2015, 08:06 Samuel Kisika

Nairobi – The gained constitutional media freedom remains under threat after Parliament proceeded with enactment of a retrogressive law restricting parliamentary journalists from covering House proceedings.

Journalists covering Parliament are uncertain whether MPs will grant them their freedom to freely report on House proceedings and committees without seeking permission from the Speaker or committee chair as proposed in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill that has proceeded to Second Reading stage.

The Bill, sponsored Adan Keynan (Eldas), proposes that a journalist who conveys any defamatory information against Parliamentary and committee proceedings or without permission of coverage will be liable to a fine not exceeding KES 500 000 or jailed for two years, or face both penalties.

Journalists, media owners, activists, religious and Opposition leaders had asked Parliament to make changes to the Bill by removing draconian clauses that contravene the Constitution’s Article 34 on media freedom and Article 35 providing the right to information because they intend to take the country back to dark days.

Read Also: Kenya press freedom rapidly deteriorating, rights group says

“A person shall not broadcast, televise or otherwise transmit by electronic means the proceedings of a House or a committee of Parliament or any part of those proceedings except by order or under the authority of relevant Speaker or chairperson of a committee of the Parliament and in accordance with the Standing Orders and the conditions and directions determined by the Speaker,” proposes part of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill.

Although Keynan promised to make any necessary amendments to the Bill during the Third Reading not to gag the media, many MPs warned that any member coming up with a bill should desist from including controversial clauses that contravene the constitutional provisions and undermine rights of certain professions.

“The right to access to information under Article 35 and freedom of the media under Article 34 of the Constitution shall be limited for the purposes of facilitating the immunities of the Houses and committees of Parliament, and facilitating the freedom of speech and debate as set out in Article 117 of the Constitution,” adds part of the Bill.

Manson Nyamweya (South Mugirango) warned that an attempt to restrict the media from Parliamentary coverage denies the public information on what MPs do in House and committees.

Florence Kajuju (Meru County MP) said, “We need to know extend of defamation to Parliament by the media and see how we can address it without legislating punitive laws against journalists who help to inform the public on House proceedings.”

Barre Shill (Fafi) also faulted the clauses of the Bill intending to restrict the media and vowed to mobilize other legislators to reject its passage if changes are not made to remove the controversial provisions.

“The House should not lock out the media because they have been accommodative in covering Parliament and informing our people,” said Shill.

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