Parliament, like any other institution or even individual, has the right to complain about its portrayal by the media. But as a public institution, the House should not be seen to be using its powers and privileges to bully journalists or interfere with the freedom of the press.
For that was the impression that some MPs created on Tuesday when they took time to attack this newspaper for a story published early in the week. Some of the MPs went to the extent of asking the Speaker to bar the newspaper’s journalists from covering House proceedings, a throwback to the dark days when the media houses walked on eggshells lest they were ejected from the House, or worse.
That the idea of locking out a media house should even cross the minds of MPs eight years after the enactment of the 2010 Constitution is worrying. It is an assault not just on the freedom of the press that the Constitution guarantees, but also an affront on all freedoms and rights in the Constitution.
While the Speaker declined the demands of the more extreme members of his House, his ruling that the authors of the story, which highlighted reports of greed of some MPs investigating various matters of public interest, appear before a committee of the House does not help matters, either.
As the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) said, by summoning the journalists, Parliament is straying into the council’s territory. It’s MCK’s mandate to investigate and determine whether journalists and media houses have deviated from the rules of the game. Parliament can only refer its grievances to the regulator.
MPs also have the option of seeking legal redress if they feel they have been unfairly treated by the media. Trying to browbeat journalists using the powers and privileges that have been entrusted to them by Kenyans is unacceptable. They should not forget that the media as Forth Estate are also watchdogs for society.
Concerning the offending story, MPs would be doing themselves and Kenyans a favour by introspecting and re-examining their ways instead of lashing out at the media which besides chronicling events also mirrors society. If they don’t like what they see in the mirror, it’s high time they did a lot of soul-searching regarding their conduct.
No less an authority than the Speaker himself has raised concern about the integrity of some MPs and House committees. That is where legislators should be directing their ire — not the media. MPs cannot and will not silence the messenger using threats.