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President rejects media law as threat to press freedom

Published on Thursday 23 August 2007.
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Reporters Without Borders hails President Mwai Kibaki refusal yesterday to sign a media bill into law on the grounds that a last-minute amendment limiting the confidentiality of sources posed a threat to press freedom.

“By refusing to give his assent to this law, President Kibaki has shown a real desire to defend the press freedom that has been achieved in Kenya,” the organisation said. “The confidentiality of sources is an essential principle. The law must now be revised and liberalized, and we hope the result will be more in line with international standards.”

A consensus was achieved in the drafting of the bill but parliamentarian Karue Muriuki added a controversial amendment at the last moment, before the bill’s approval on 2 August. Under this amendment, an editor could be forced to identify an anonymous source to the police or to a court.

Kibaki said the amendment ran counter to Kenya’s “democratic efforts” in recent years and represented “an obstacle to press freedom.”


8.08.2007 - President Mwai Kibaki urged not to sign Media Bill into law

HE Mwai Kibaki
President of Kenya
Harambee House, Harambee Avenue
PO Box 30510, Nairobi, Kenya

Paris, 7 August 2007

Dear Mr. President,

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, would like to alert you to the disastrous consequences for Kenyan democracy that would ensue from the media law passed by parliament on 2 August.

Our organisation approves of the Kenyan government’s dialogue efforts and search for a consensus in the drafting of this law. But we find it incomprehensible that it was amended by a clause introduced at the last minute by parliamentarian Karue Muriuki. Not only did its introduction violate the consensual spirit in which the law was drafted, but its content is contrary to the universal democratic standards advocated inter alia by the United Nations. The clause says: “When a story includes unnamed parties who are not disclosed and the same becomes the subject of a legal tussle as to who is meant, then the editor shall be obliged to disclose the identity of the party or parties referred to.”

This clause would mean that the confidentiality of sources, a fundamental and essential condition of press freedom, would no longer be guaranteed. Journalists are deprived of valuable information if their sources cannot be sure that their identity will be protected. When a society loses its transparency, the press can no longer fulfil its role of holding up a mirror to social and political reality, of reflecting the successes and failures of both its political leaders and its population. When this happens, a key component of the democratic checks and balances is destroyed.

Furthermore, journalists are not supposed to be police or judicial auxiliaries. Democratic governments often point out that it is not the job of the press to act as informer or prosecutor. For this reason, forcing journalists to reveal their sources under pain of being sanctioned by a court violates not only the principle of professional confidentiality but also journalistic ethics.

For all these reasons, Reporters Without Borders urges you to refuse to sign this media law in its current form, and to send it back to parliament for revision.

We hope our request will receive a favourable response.

Sincerely,

Robert Ménard
Secretary-General

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