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Reprieve as Parliament drops retrogressive media laws

12 October 2015, 15:15 Samuel Kisika

Nairobi – Journalists covering parliament have reasons to smile after Eldas MP, Aden Keynan bowed to pressure and dropped retrogressive laws that sought to restrict and punish reporters for alleged defaming and misreporting on House proceedings.

Keynan who addressed the press at Parliament Buildings said he has deleted Clauses 27 and 34 that had proposed heavy penalties of KES 500 000 or a two-year jail term for journalists liable of offences in the controversial Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014.

Keynan, who distanced from ownership of the Bill said he was only the conveyor belt of the Parliamentary Service Commission (PSC) to push for the legislation of the law and maintained that he has remained the defender of media freedom, thus cannot sponsor any retrogressive law.

“As among senior members of Parliament, I am one person persuaded that members of the fourth Estate (journalists) are critical not only in Kenya but in any civilized society all over the world to freely inform taxpayers,” said Keynan.

“I have taken into account public views and deleted contentious clauses in the Bill but introduced new Schedules applicable to Members of Parliament where MPs who break the Bill’s provisions will be liable to penalties,” he added.

Read Also: Media freedom still under threat as MPs proceed with retrogressive law

The Bill, set to enter its Second Reading stage had proposed 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.

Clause 34 of the Bill had stated, “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.”

The was an outcry from journalists, media owners, activists, religious and Opposition leaders who demanded 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.

 Another contentious Clause of the Bill to gag reporters has stated, “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.”

MPs had threatened to shoot the bill down if the contentious clauses meant to gag the media were not deleted since they contravened the new Constitution’s gained media freedom and the publics’ right to access to information.

For instance, the South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya warned that an attempt to restrict the media from covering Parliament denies the public information on what MPs do in House and committees.

Fafi MP, Barre Shill also faulted the contentious clauses and vowed to mobilize other legislators to reject its passage if Keynan does not remove the controversial provisions limiting the journalists’ freedom of reporting.

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