A move by the National Assembly to summon two senior People Daily writers to give evidence on a story published by this newspaper two days ago has sparked outrage in the media fraternity and public.
House Speaker Justin Muturi however declined to bar the two journalists and this newspaper from covering parliamentary proceedings as demanded by Robert Pukose (Endebess) and instead referred the matter to the Powers and Privileges Committee.
He said the move was not a condemnation of Anthony Mwangi and Dinah Ondari, the authors of the story published on Monday.
“As per my direction last week, the two journalists are not condemned. They must be given a fair hearing, as the information they have may help us to streamline our operations. They must be treated with utmost respect. But they must answer all questions. We will not go the route of saying that they will be barred from covering Parliament,” said Muturi.
And last night, the Media Council of Kenya(MCK) wrote to the House Powers and Privileges committee asking it to refer the matter to the council for arbitration as stipulated by the law.
MCK chief executive officer David Omwoyo said Parliament as an aggrieved party cannot be the accuser, judge and jury in its own case.
But the decision drew immediate outrage from Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ).
Secretary general Eric Oduor said: “It has come to our attention that National Assembly has summoned two journalists, Anthony Mwangi and Dinah Ondari, to appear before a parliamentary committee to reveal sources of their stories, which detailed rot in the august House.
“Media exists to serve the interests of great people of Kenya, and therefore as a watchdog, it has a duty to investigate the rot in the august House and inform the public.”
Oduor said the ruling by Muturi “is a great disappointment” from a House that has been purporting to investigate scandals, but end up tabling substandard reports.
He said Muturi was on record castigating parliamentary committees for either producing substandard reports or delays in finishing their work as a result of questionable interaction between members and witnesses summoned to give evidence.
The journalists have been summoned to appear tomorrow at 10am before a session that will be chaired by Anthony Kiai (Mukurwe-ini), representing the Speaker.
Muturi said the issues raised by the story headlined “House of Bribes” raised serious allegations that implied Parliament was a bribery den.
The story highlighted allegations of bribery in parliamentary committees days after Muturi warned the outfits against rent seeking.
MPs who contributed to the debate defended their integrity saying while there were incidences where some of them had acted in a manner that put their integrity into question the story was a blanket condemnation of the whole House.
Majority leader Aden Duale (Garisa Town) said Members of Parliament should not be condemned as a whole and that cases of lack of integrity on members should narrow down to culpable individuals.
“The condemnation should be specific to the individuals. The media cannot be allowed to disparage the legislature, the Committee of Privileges must look into this,” said Duale.
“I don’t bother with newspapers. My party leader is on record saying that “gazetti ni ya kufunga nyama” (newspapers are for meat wrapping), that newspaper must be somewhere in a butchery wrapping meat.
His Minority counterpart John Mbadi (Suba South) concurred: “I am not denying that sometimes MPs act in a manner that leads to members of the public questioning our conduct, but this should not be used as a ticket for blanket condemnation of the whole House,” he said.
“We are not telling them not to cover the bad things that happen in Parliament. That would compromise our integrity but let it not be a blank cheque to scandalise the House,” added Mbadi.
Pukose claimed the story was an affront to the entire House. “Freedom must come with responsibility. It is unfair to hide under parliamentary privilege to scandalise Parliament.”
He accused the media of being “a thankless lot”.
Kenyans on social media reacted sharply to the summons. Patwako @patwako remarked: “Can’t Muturi just find out if the MPs are corrupt rather than summon the journalists. Anyway Muturi was also a one time MP”.
Onesmus @OnesmusMoh said: “Why is he summoning the journalists they are not public servants.”