, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 17 – Gone will be the days when journalists are hounded for broadcasting or publishing information deemed top secret and forced to reveal their sources, if the Access to Information Bill is passed by Parliament.
The Bill which comes up for the First Reading Wednesday proposes a raft of changes, among them compelling government officials to provide information sought within 21 days.
Stakeholders led by Council Member at the Media Council of Kenya David Ohito (the Standard) who presented their proposals to the Energy Committee which is reviewing the Bill by Nyeri County Woman Representative Priscilla Nyokabi termed the law as progressive and a step in the right direction.
“This Bill will enable our work as journalists easier because we can now write to the ministries and the public officers and even private entities that we are seeking information and they must avail that information,” he stated.
He said the Bill would not only enhance access to information from government institutions but also ensure correct information is disseminated to the public.
“All of you know how it has been very difficult accessing information from government because we have a law under the official Secrets Act which makes it difficult for us to access information that is critical to the public but now things will be easier,” said Ohito.
Other proposals state than in demanding information from a public office, no fee should be levied on the individual unless in production of copies.
Committee chairman Kigumo legislator Jamleck Kamau who spoke after receiving proposed amendments by the media stakeholders said they would ensure the Bill is passed as it was beneficial to the public.
He said they would bring the proposals by the stakeholders on board and ensure the Bill does not lead to the infringement of the rights of journalists.
“We want to ensure that all the views that you bring to us are taken into consideration. Where there are issues, we will streamline them because we want to present to Kenyans an Act of Parliament that will stand the test of time,” said Kamau.
The media stakeholders had raised concern over the Official Secrets Act which limits how much information can be made public, further calling on the committee to ensure the issue is dealt with.
Many government constitutions have constantly taken advantage of the Secrets Act to limit transmission of information to the media and to the public but if the Bill sails through, every Kenyan will have the right to access information in the domain of a public authority.
But the Bill is expected elicit a heated debate among legislators some of whom have accused the media of ‘plotting’ their downfall.
The Bill also comes ‘hot on the heels’ of the heated debate on the Powers and Privileges Bill proposed by Eldas MP Adan Keynan intending to limit the media from accessing information from Parliament.
But after intense lobbying from media stakeholders the offensive clauses were eventually deleted.
Just recently Interior Cabinet secretary Joseph Nkaissery ordered the arrest of the three journalists from the Daily Nation, the Standard and the Star for publishing information on an audit query relating to the alleged misappropriation of Sh3.8 billion by his ministry, the revelations having been made before a parliamentary committee.
Nkaissery had demanded that the journalists reveal their sources but after the arrest of John Ngirachu from the Nation, an incident that sparked an outrage, the investigations were called off.