Kenyan leader refuses to sign media law

The Kenyan president refused on Wednesday to approve legislation that has widely been condemned as an attack on independent media because it would allow Kenyan courts to compel reporters to reveal their sources.

President Mwai Kibaki rejected the Bill a week after hundreds of journalists protested while wearing black gags. He said “the Bill was a threat to the democratic gains that Kenya has made in the recent past”, according to Presidential Press Service.

Under Kenya’s Constitution, the president can refuse to sign a Bill, but must send a memorandum to the National Assembly speaker giving his reasons. Otherwise, the Bill becomes law 14 days after the president receives it for approval.

The Presidential Press Service said Kibaki’s memorandum recommended removing an ambiguous clause that could be interpreted as giving courts the power to force journalists to reveal sources or unnamed individuals quoted in a story.

The clause was introduced just before Parliament’s final vote on the Bill more than two weeks ago.
The lawmaker who introduced it had argued that journalists often defame prominent people by not naming them in stories but describing them enough to allow them to be identified.

The Bill also includes provisions for having an independent media council arbitrate complaints against the press, with its decisions being legally binding.

Kenya, which is due to hold elections later this year, is ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries in the Berlin-based Transparency International’s annual corruption perceptions survey, but has some of Africa’s best-developed and liveliest media.

Journalists using anonymous sources have exposed some of the country’s biggest scandals, such as the Goldenberg affair, when the government was swindled out of millions of dollars for fictitious gold and gem exports during the 1990s.

Last year, armed police raided the offices of the Standard newspaper and broadcaster KTN, damaging equipment and burning newspapers.—Sapa-AP

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