Thursday, 06 Jun 2013

A big step back for media freedom in Kenya

By Boni Odinga, Internews in Kenya.

The media could become part of the casualties in the ongoing protracted battle pitting the National Assembly against the Salaries and Remuneration Commission(SRC).Journalists have been asked to vacate the media center within the House precincts. Following the surprise move, parliamentary journalists could be seen both within and outside the grounds bemoaning the development. The two very territorial estates, joined at the hip, seem to be headed for a showdown.

“This is surely a return to the KANU dark days”, Kiss TV’s Shem Oluchiri and NTV’s Ken Mijungu said as they tried to come to terms with the happening.

According to the journalists, the plan was hatched two weeks ago after it emerged that journalists were giving too much coverage to the demonstrations outside Parliament. The demos, since dubbed the ‘pig protests’ had civil society activists dump pigs and feed outside the national assembly in protest at MPs intention to award themselves a hefty salary hike,  annulling what had been set by the  Sarah Serem-led Salary Remuneration Commission.

The National Assembly Clerk Justin Bundi said that they will not give residence to journalists; a tacit reference to the media center that hosts parliamentary reporters. According to the clerk, the scribes will only be invited to the House on a need to know basis. It is only the national broadcaster, KBC, that shall continue enjoying the rights to live coverage of the proceedings.

A rather dejected Nation Media Group journalist Caroline Wafula found it hard to come to terms with the development. “In this day and age, this shouldn’t happen, we’re not here on a joyride, we represent the public interest. Journalists will continue to first and foremost fight for the plight of Kenyans,” she said.

Terming it unfortunate Chairman of the Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association Alphonce Shiundu said it would be hard to take on Parliament with its seemingly unfettered powers.

“These guys rarely lose,” Shiundu said rather resignedly. Shiundu also traced the turn of events to the MPs quest for more money and the tangent journalists seemed to have taken. “I think the MPs expect us to do for them PR, since we are accommodated within the precincts of the house.”

The clerk attributed the marching orders to the need for more committee rooms.  The National Assembly has two main media centers. One in which press conferences are held but also used for House committee meetings and the second  where journalists have access to computers and can quickly bang copy to beat deadlines. The centers were put up with grants from USAID through SUNY Kenya under the parliamentary strengthening programme. The two reclaimed rooms, if the new development holds sway, shall now be used for house departmental committees. This 11th National Assembly has four additional committees.

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