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Media activists outraged by Kenyan bill gagging the Press

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By Staff Writer

newsdesk@greatlakesvoice.compress

Nairobi- Kenya’s media is in outrage after lawmakers approved a new bill threatening reporters with fines and prison if they published anything that defamed parliament.

The bill, which was approved last week and still needs to be passed by the senate and president to become law, introduced a new offence of criminal defamation of parliament.

Media Reacts

“Dark day in graft war as MPs kill media probe,” wrote The Standard. “It’s a crime to say anything MPs don’t like,” said Daily Nation and “Parliament passes law to punish media,” said The Star.

Convicted journalists would face fines of up to 500,000 Kenyan shillings ($4,900) or two years in prison, under part of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 passed on Wednesday.

MP Nicholas Gumbo was quoted in The Standard saying it would protect him and his colleagues from mob justice. “Are we just going to allow false and scandalous information to be written about us just because we are MPs?” he asked, according to the paper.

The Media Council of Kenya press regulator condemned the bill, saying it could be used “to silence critical reporting” and called on the senate to repeal the restrictive clauses.

Francis Atwoli, the Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, said the president should block it. “The decision … depicts a House hell-bent on taking Kenyans back to the old days when such draconian laws were exploited by the state to intimidate and harass the media in order to cover up for the ills in government,” he told Daily Nation.

CPJ reacts

Global Press freedom activist body, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the bill saying that a combination of legal and physical harassment is making it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely in the country.

“This bill has no place in a democracy,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. “The public has a right to hear news and criticism of what is discussed in parliament and how members conduct themselves. We urge President Uhuru Kenyatta to live up to his promise to respect press freedom and the role of the media in ensuring the free flow of information.”

Media association speaks out

In a statement sent to Great Lakes Voice reads; “The Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) wishes to express dismay and outrage over the passage of the Parliamentary Powers and Privilege Bill 2014 with clauses that clearly violate the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and which deliberately seek to undermine press freedom.”

Part IV of the Bill touching on Publications and Broadcast, and particularly Clause 34 of the Bill is a serious affront to press freedom and seeks to constrain journalists from doing their work. The clause provides for a fine of KES 500,000 (USD 5000) or a two year jail term or both for a journalist deemed to have defamed parliament or members of the House or its committees.

The provisions clearly violate Article 34 of the Constitution which guarantees press freedom and by extension, violates Article 35 of the Constitution which empowers citizens to access information.
The National Assembly is a public institution with MPs elected by Kenyan voters who overwhelmingly approved the constitution.

“This trend will clearly undermine the media’s role as a public watch dog at a time when public officials and political leaders are bent on wanton looting of national resources and bringing back impunity,” according to the statement.

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