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PRESIDENT URGED TO REJECT LAW REQUIRING JOURNALISTS TO REVEAL SOURCES

Kenyan media were "thunderstruck" by the surprise passage of a media law that would require journalists to disclose their sources in court, according to the Nairobi-based Media Institute.

On 4 August 2007, fewer than 30 of 222 members of parliament adopted a last-minute amendment to the Media Council of Kenya Bill. It now 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 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, churches, human rights and press freedom organisations say the law is unconstitutional and contradicts a law protecting anti-corruption whistle-blowers. The bill also conflicts with international press freedom conventions that Kenya has signed, the Law Society added.

The amendment's passage departed from informal negotiations that had curbed other proposals such as licensing journalists. Media organisations have vowed to challenge its constitutionality should President Mwai Kibaki sign the bill into law.

Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe has asked the attorney-general to clarify the amendment, the BBC reports. If the amendment is deemed faulty, he says he would ask the president to refer it back to Parliament

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) urged Kibiaki to reject the bill, saying it is "contrary to the universal democratic standards... This clause would mean that the confidentiality of sources, a fundamental and essential condition of press freedom, would no longer be guaranteed."

The Media Owners Association (MOA) also petitioned the president to reject the media bill, saying it would be a fatal blow to freedom of information. MOA chairman Hanington Gaya said, "There is no way we can operate effectively if we do not have the right to protect our sources. Individuals with crucial information can only give it on the basis that their identities will not be revealed. They must, after all, protect their jobs, their families, their privacy and personal security."

Government relations with media have been uneasy since armed masked policemen raided the "Standard" newspaper's printing press in 2006 and switched off its television channel, KTN, for allegedly inciting ethnic hatred. Last April, the government ordered an advertising boycott of the Standard group.

Visit these links:
- Media owners petition: http://allafrica.com/stories/200708070830.html
- Government seeks advice: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6939127.stm
- Citizen report: http://tinyurl.com/2xlfvh
14 August 2007

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