, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 16 – Author of the US Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson said: “If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
In the same letter to lawman Edward Carrington almost a quarter of a century ago, Jefferson also said: “The people are the only censors of their Governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty.”
Sentiments shared by ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i in regard to clause 34 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2015 which introduces the criminal offence of ‘defamation of Parliament’ setting a penalty of two years imprisonment, a fine not exceeding Sh500,000 or both.
“Everyone is aware that as a ministry we’ve been trying to work with colleagues in government to re-look again at the criminal libel provisions that we have in place so that we can have an environment that fosters true freedom of the press as we move forward.”
He therefore welcomed National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi’s move to suspend the final vote on the bill which will allow his ministry to conduct an awareness campaign of sorts on the retrogressive effect of introducing the offence.
“I will do my part to try and engage in a conversation within government and see whether we can actually reason with the Members of Parliament on that legislation and see whether we can have a different situation.
“I know there are times it’s been frustrating for us and even for the National Assembly. But for us in government, no amount of mistakes by the media, no amount of divergence of opinion or criticism will tempt us enough to encroach on press freedom,” he told Capital FM News in an exclusive interview.
A position shared by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) which has argued that there already exist sufficient avenues of redress where damage has been done by the media.
“You can file a civil suit and be awarded damages, the Council itself handles complaints,” MCK CEO Harun Mwangi said, explaining why they opposed clause 34 of the Powers and Privileges Bill 2015.
Eldas MP Adan Keynan had on Monday said he would “drop” the clause – as its sponsor – but on Wednesday MPs rejected his attempt to withdraw the limits to media freedom.
Keynan had proposed the deletion of clause 27, which requires journalists to seek parliamentary approval before publishing proceedings of Parliament or any of its committees, and Clause 34.
A betrayal that has got the media fraternity up in arms.