, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 9 – National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has faulted sections of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 that seeks to bar the media from scrutinising the business of the House.
Speaking during a meeting with editors and parliamentary journalists on Tuesday, Muturi termed clauses 23, 24 and 25 of the bill sponsored by Eldas MP Adan Keynan as unconstitutional.
He said media laws are already catered for under Article 24 of the Constitution and sees no need to re-introduce laws that already exist.
He emphasised the need for journalists to operate freely under existing laws without curtailing their freedom.
“We cannot begin to create a new crime which is unknown in any civilized part of the world. Kenyans must be allowed to enjoy their freedom. We must raise and defend media freedom. So why would you want to hide…if indeed it is a matter that is so sensitive, the chair of the committee can tell the media present to withdraw,” the Speaker said.
The Editors Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists and Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association have strongly opposed the proposed provisions in the Bill, saying it will make journalists’ work difficult.
“We acknowledge and respect the fact that Parliament, of which the National Assembly is an organ, has powers under Article 117 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 to provide, through a Bill, for the powers, privileges and immunities of Parliament and its subordinate institutions for purposes of the orderly and effective discharge of the business of Parliament.,” Editors Guild Secretary Michael Mumo said.
But he explained that editors were alarmed at the attempt to limit the supervisory powers of the courts to scrutinise the constitutionality and legality of the proceedings and decisions of Parliament.
“We are also alarmed and disturbed by provisions of the said Bill which purport to take away the constitutionally guaranteed right of the media and the people of Kenya to question and scrutinize the proceedings and decisions of Parliament,” Mumo said.
The Bill seeks to impose a Sh500,000 fine and a jail term against journalists who publish reports “that defame Parliament.”
Other provisions in the Bill provide for privileges and immunity of members from legal proceedings and freedom from arrest for a civil debt during a session of Parliament. Witnesses who are summoned to appear before a committee but fail to do so shall be fined up to Sh500,000.
It also gives the Speaker or chairman of parliamentary committees discretion to decide when House or committee proceedings can be covered.
The Speaker further said Keynan’s proposal to shield parliamentary decisions from scrutiny was misplaced because the Judiciary is charged with determining the constitutionality of laws or resolutions of a House committee.
“It’s wrong for the Judiciary to purport to injunct Parliament as its wrong for Parliament to discuss a matter pending before the courts. Once we have dealt with the matter, be it a legislation or committee report, the court is perfectly in order to express itself on any section or part of the report.”
The Parliamentary Powers and Privileges committee, which the Speaker chairs will handle the Bill and Muturi has invited the public and journalists to send petitions and memoranda to raise objections on any part they feel is offensive.
Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale said; “The Bill in my opinion has serious reservations. In Parliament I speak for the people of Garissa Township and the Jubilee Coalition. We will subject this Bill thoroughly to public participation.”