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Members of Parliaments’ hostility to media was a sign of things to come

NAIROBI
By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU | November 2nd 2013

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU

The Jubilee-dominated National Assembly signaled their dislike for a free media when MPs agreed to kick journalists out of the Media Centre, ostensibly to make room for committee meetings.

The decision was delivered on the floor of the House by Speaker Justin Muturi just two months after MPs took their oath of office.

“We just do not have space. The temporary structure where the media houses operated from is enough for two committees to sit concurrently,” said Muturi on June 6, when he gave the orders for journalists to leave the Media Centre. The lawmakers, led by Majority Leader Aden Duale and Deputy Minority Leader Jakoyo Midiwo had asked the Clerk of the National Assembly to implement the decision because they were angry at the way journalists had covered the lawmakers’ push for a higher pay. Their excuse was to tell journalists to get out of the Media Centre. They impounded computers that had been installed in the Media Centre for use by journalists. Muturi told journalists to “sympathise” with the situation.

But separately, the MPs kept on telling the journalists that the precincts of Parliament buildings was strictly for MPs, and that the media should stay far away. They said journalists should only sit in the Press Gallery. For 106 days, journalists had been locked out of the august House. They were only allowed to go to the Press Gallery and in some committee meetings. The move denied them the chance to keep an eye on the political schemes of the MPs.

All this happened despite an explicit provision of the Constitution, which obligates the leadership of the House to facilitate the coverage of the proceedings of the National Assembly and its committees.

After weeks of negotiations between the management of the National Assembly and the Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association, the Speaker climbed down, and allowed journalists accredited by the Media Council unfettered access to the Media Centre, committee rooms, and the Press Gallery. Then, Muturi told the House, that photo-journalists were part of the reason why he had shut down the media centre.

“Let them not come to areas where they want to take photographs of members in compromised positions,” the Speaker said.

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