ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the total disregard for media freedoms shown by the passing of the unconstitutional Powers and Privileges Bill by the Kenya National Assembly.
The Bill contains draconian provisions which would, if implemented, undermine, and even criminalise, the freedom of the media in reporting on parliamentary proceedings.
“The Bill, as approved by Parliament, is unconstitutional and falls short of Kenya’s international human rights obligations. It prohibits the criticism of parliament as an institution, and restricts scrutiny of the actions of parliamentarians as representatives of the Kenyan people. This will in turn hinder open debate about the functioning of the parliament as a public body, as well as its attendant actions on behalf of the Kenyan people. It furthermore undermines the right to information of the Kenyan people with regards to the proceedings of parliament”, said Henry Maina, Director, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
The Bill, which received majority support during the committee of the whole House, outlines the powers and privileges which legislators enjoy while carrying out their parliamentary functions.
It contains provisions which would restrict the media from broadcasting on parliamentary proceeding, by introducing retrogressive offences which criminalise “scandalizing Parliament”. The provisions create an offence for any journalist deemed to have scandalized parliament and provides for a harsh and disproportionate jail sentence of two years, with a potential fine of Kshs 500,000 (US $5,000].
Freedom of the media is crucial to freedom of expression: introducing overly punitive measures against the media for vague offences will have a chilling effect on the media reporting on proceedings within parliament. These issues are manifestly in the public interest, and excessive restrictions on reporting around parliamentary activities constitute a clear restriction on freedom of expression.
The Bill seeks to insulate legislators from public scrutiny, criminalises media freedom, and creates harsh sanctions which unduly limit media freedom.
“The Senate and the President would do well to reject the Bill in its entirety until it is brought in line with the constitutional provisions which enable media to play its rightful role in keeping Kenyans informed on parliamentary proceedings”, added Maina.
The Bill has been criticised as a mockery of the freedom of expression and right to information in Kenya by the media community in Kenya, including the Editors Guild, the Kenya Union of Journalists and the Kenya Correspondents Association, the Senate, trade unions and other professional bodies.
ARTICLE 19, in agreement with these organisations, condemns the approval by parliament of this controversial and unconstitutional bill as a threat to media freedoms in Kenya.
- The Bill was introduced in Parliament by the MP for Eldas, Mr Adan Keynan a senior politician who sits in the House Powers and privileges Committee.
- In 2014, ARTICLE 19 analyzed the Powers and Privileges Bill and made recommendations for the removal of the same clauses that restrict media freedoms. See the detailed analysis here.