Nairobi — Kenyan journalists have now threatened to give the National Assembly a blackout unless it reverses a decision barring the media from covering its proceedings.
The Kenya Editors' Guild chairman Macharia Gaitho on Wednesday condemned the decision taken by the Clerk of the National Assembly Justin Bundi who ordered journalists out of its precincts.
Gaitho said coverage of Parliament can only continue if there is a conducive environment for journalists assigned to cover the Legislature.
"Such actions are unprecedented in independent Kenya. They are retrogressive, dictatorial and totally unacceptable in a modern, progressive and democratic society."
He added that the Clerk and the MPs could do well to acquaint themselves with Article 118(1) of the Constitution of Kenya which among other things states that; "Parliament may not exclude the public, or any media, from any sitting unless in exceptional circumstances the relevant Speaker has determined that there are justifiable reasons for the exclusion."
Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association Chairman Alphonce Shiundu also condemned the move which he described as 'taking Kenya to the dark old days'.
He noted that "as the State House, (the President's official residence) and Judiciary were thinking of allowing journalists on hitherto hallowed grounds, what the National Assembly does is convert the media centre into a committee room?"
Shiundu added that Parliament and the media were the "society's watchdog", noting that unfettered coverage of the House proceedings is meant to "connect Parliament with the grassroots."
"Kenyans need to listen to their leaders. Journalists need to tell Kenyans what their leaders in Parliament are up to."
He appealed to the leadership of Parliament to reconsider the stand.
"Surely, Parliament can get sufficient space in other government buildings, such as Jogoo House, especially the wing that served as the office of former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, or the National Assembly can speak to the Senate, to use some of the rooms at the KICC for its meetings."
Journalists accredited to cover parliamentary proceedings were on Wednesday ordered to leave Parliament, with the Clerk saying they will only be allowed on invitation.
The clerk who was accompanied by parliamentary orderlies has already issued an order to have a room previously allocated to journalists turned to be a committee room for MPs.
He said "Parliament cannot be creating a residence for journalists".
"They cannot be seating here when we have no space for MPs," said Bundi. "Let us see how we manage the process as we move on."
He said coverage of the House proceedings will be on 'invitation only.'
The Media Centre was established in 2009 with funding from the US government at a cost of over Sh2.5 million.
Laban Wanambisi is a Parliamentary and Political reporter. He joined the Capital Newsteam in 2005. Since then, he has reported on many of the major news events over the years including his first major assignment covering the 2005 National Referendum on the Draft Constitution, and several other subsequent key national and international events.