In Kenya, president dismisses bill compelling disclosure of sources

August 23, 2007 12:00 PM ET

New York, August 23, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes President Mwai Kibaki’s rejection Wednesday of a bill that would have forced editors to name their sources if their stories led to court cases.

Kibaki declined to sign Kenya’s Media Bill after calling an amendment within it “a great inhibition of press freedom” that could “undermine the [country’s] democratic strides,” according to an official statement posted on the Web site of Kenya’s State House. Kibaki, standing for re-election at presidential elections in December, had also called on Kenya’s Parliament to delete the clause. It would require a 65 percent majority to overrule Kibaki, according to news reports.

The move came a week after hundreds of journalists held an unprecedented protest march in the streets of the capital Nairobi amid a wave of local and international outcry. In a show of defiance, journalists attended last week’s government spokesman’s briefing gagged and mute, according to local press reports.

“We welcome President Kibaki’s move to scrap this restrictive legislation which stood to undermine the ability of Kenyan journalists to do their jobs freely,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We urge authorities to uphold the rights of the press to freely cover the upcoming national elections.”

Shortly following the move, Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe announced the government was withdrawing another media bill for redrafting, according to news reports. The Kenya Communication Bill contained restrictions on media ownership and provisions granting the government sweeping powers of search and seizure without judicial or parliamentary approval on suspicions of threats to national security, according to local journalists. In recent years, Kenya’s lively press successfully defeated several governmental attempts to introduce repressive legislation, according to CPJ research.

Authorities had yet to amend archaic criminal laws on defamation matters despite a stated January 2005 government moratorium on such prosecutions, Nairobi lawyer Paul Mwangi told CPJ. In a private criminal libel prosecution this year, a journalist was jailed for three months .

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