NAIROBI, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Kenya’s media united in outrage on Thursday after lawmakers approved a new bill threatening reporters with fines and prison if they published anything that defamed parliament.
The bill, which was approved late on Wednesday and still needs to be passed by the senate and president to become law, introduced a new offence of criminal defamation of parliament.
One MP said it was needed to protect politicians against “mob justice”.
But many of Kenya’s vociferous newspapers published front page editorials under banner headlines condemning the move, saying it would undermine investigations into pervasive corruption and shield unscrupulous officials.
“Dark day in graft war as MPs kill media probe,” wrote The Standard. “It’s a crime to say anything MPs don’t like,” said Daily Nation and “Parliament passes law to punish media,” said The Star.
Convicted journalists would face fines of up to 500,000 Kenyan shillings ($4,900) or two years in prison, under part of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill 2014 passed on Wednesday.
MP Nicholas Gumbo was quoted in The Standard saying it would protect him and his colleagues from mob justice. “Are we just going to allow false and scandalous information to be written about us just because we are MPs?” he asked, according to the paper.
The Media Council of Kenya press regulator condemned the bill, saying it could be used “to silence critical reporting” and called on the senate to repeal the restrictive clauses.
Francis Atwoli, the Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, said the president should block it. “The decision ... depicts a House hell-bent on taking Kenyans back to the old days when such draconian laws were exploited by the state to intimidate and harass the media in order to cover up for the ills in government,” he told Daily Nation.
Kenyan lawmakers approved another law restricting the media in 2013, but President Uhuru Kenyatta - who has promised a crackdown on corruption - rejected the legislation after widespread protests. ($1 = 102.9500 Kenyan shillings) (Editing by George Obulutsa and Andrew Heavens)