The National Assembly has inched closer to enacting draconian legislation to gag the media and shield Members of Parliament from public scrutiny.
Despite the criticism the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill (National Assembly Bill No. 35 of 2014) has attracted, MPs voted to conclude debate and propel the proposed law to the last stages of law making.
The bill sponsored by Eldas MP Adan Keynan, seeks to introduce a crime of defamation of Parliament and criminalise the publishing of what in the eyes of the Speaker or committee chairmen would amount to be false or scandalous libel on Parliament.
It prescribes a Sh500,000 fine or two-year jail term or both for journalists found guilty of contravening the provision. The effect is to intimidate journalists reporting issues such as bribery scandals said to influence recommendations of parliamentary probes and decisions on reports.
Last year during a media breakfast with editors, Speaker Justin Muturi ruled out the possibilities of enacting laws that could rein in the freedom of the media by penalising journalists who report on Parliamentary proceedings without permission.
Muturi said concerns that a proposed bill by Eldas MP Adan Keynan would gag the media and impinge journalists’ constitutional rights to discharge duties at Parliament were unwarranted. In the meeting with the editors, Muturi said proceedings in the National Assembly were protected and anyone reporting on them was shielded from law and therefore no journalists should be afraid.
Proceedings in the National Assembly are protected and so are the media in our Bill of Rights,” he said. But Thursday, MPs voted for the bill with the retrogressive clauses. If passed in its current form, revelations of compromise such as those made against members of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and Agriculture Committee will be a thing of the past.
The bill also attempts to control flow of information to the public by requiring prior permission from the Speaker and chairmen of committees before broadcast of proceedings of the House and committees.
The media’s scrutiny of the conduct of legislators and the freedom to broadcast and publish, especially contentious issues that legislators could consider as offensive, could be dealt a major blow if the proposed law goes through the Committee stage in the form it was passed in the Second Reading, approved in the Third Reading and is assented to by the President.
Speaker’s approval The Keynan’s bill seeks to introduce a crime of defamation of Parliament, criminalising the publishing of what in the eyes of the Speaker or Committee chairman would amount to be false or scandalous libel on Parliament.