, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 15 – Professional bodies representing Kenya’s media industry on Thursday called on the Senate to reject clauses in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 that seek to criminalise unfavourable coverage of MPs.
A joint statement issued by the Kenya Editors Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists and the Kenya Correspondents Association slammed inclusion of the offensive clauses, saying it violated democratic ideals.
Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) Chairman Linus Kaikai said the Media Act already provides sufficient safeguards against defamation and has therefore questioned the motives behind punitive clauses in the Bill fronted by Eldas MP Adan Keynan.
“The Bill as passed is unconstitutional and contravenes Articles 33, 34 and 35 of the Constitution which entrench freedom of expression, freedom and independence of media and the public’s right to information,” Kaikai asserted.
In his view the action taken by the MPs means denying Kenyans the right to follow parliamentary proceedings.
He regretted that it was unfortunate that the electorate will not be in a position to know the performance of the people they elected to represent them.
ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi also stood with the media in opposing the criminalisation of defamation saying the Executive was keen to lobby MPs to vote against the offending clause.
The media bodies were also furious at hefty fines imposed on journalists yet they will be attending to their core duty of being the watchdog of the society by giving information and holding leaders to account.
They said it was unfortunate that journalists could easily find themselves in jail – not for doing anything wrong but simply going about their business.
“Not only are journalists in peril for simply doing their jobs, but citizens of Kenya who use social media and other platforms to question the work of their representatives will also end up in prison for simply exercising their constitutional rights,” Kaikai complained.
KEG member David Ohito said in case the Senate confirms passage of the Bill, focus will be shifted to President Uhuru Kenyatta who will be urged not to assent to it.
But if that avenue fails, the media representatives said they were ready to battle it out in court just like they fought draconian laws included in the Security Laws Act, the Media Council of Kenya Bill and the Kenya Information and Communications Act amendment (KICA).
Media Council of Kenya (MCK) chief executive Haron Mwangi in a separate briefing announced that they had petitioned President Kenyatta advising him not to assent to the Bill in the event the Senate fails to reject the offending clauses.
“We also send an anticipatory cautionary petition to his Excellency the President to have the strength of resolve to intervene at an appropriate time should the offending clauses remain on the proposed Bill,” Mwangi said.
He said the adoption into law of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill as currently drafted would also set a bad precedent where County Assemblies are concerned.
The National Assembly on Wednesday rejected a bid by Keynan to remove the clauses that create the offence of defamation of Parliament setting the penalty at a two year jail term or Sh500,000 fine.