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Controversial press law requiring journalists to reveal sources approved by Parliament, awaits presidential approval

(Media Institute/IFEX) - The media industry in Kenya has been thunderstruck by the surprise enactment of a media law that will require journalists to disclose the identities of their sources in court.

A last minute amendment introduced in the final stages to the Media Council of Kenya Bill by a pro-government Member of Parliament was adopted and passed by a minority of Kenya's Parliament (27 out of 222)on Thursday, August 4, 2007.

The law states: "When a story includes unnamed parties who are not disclosed and the same become the subject of a legal tussle as to who is meant, then the editor shall be obligated to disclose the identity of the party or parties referred to."

The government argues that the law will enforce ethics in journalism, but press freedom analysts say it will curtail freedom of press, intimidate sources and expose the media to undue litigation.

The Law Society of Kenya, politicians, human rights and press freedom organisations have sharply criticised the law as unconstitutional and contradictory to the Witness Protection Bill, which aims to protect whistle-blowers in the fight against corruption in the country.

The inclusion of the amendment, introduced cheekily on the floor of Parliament, defeated informal negotiations between the ministry and media that had succeeded in removing other venomous proposals such as the licencing of journalists.

The law awaits Presidential assent to take effect and media organisations have vowed to challenge its constitutionality should President Mwai Kibaki endorse it.

Under Kenyan legislative procedure, the president can reject a law and send it back to Parliament, giving his reasons for so doing or recommending changes.

Kenya has in the recent past experienced extreme aggression against the independent press, the most memorable being the raid on the Standard Group by government-backed mercenaries.

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