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STATEMENT BY THE KENYA EDITORS' GUILD ON THE OCCASION OF WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

The Kenya Editors' Guild joins the media fraternity worldwide in celebrating World Press Freedom Day.

In that regard the Guild notes with appreciation the remarks by President Uhuru Kenyatta while opening the Regional Journalists' Convention in Nairobi today, May 2, 2013.

The Convention was one of the World Press Freedom Day activities organized by the Media Council of Kenya, of which Kenya Editors' Guild is a representative member.

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The president pledged his personal commitment to the protection of media freedoms.

"My government will fight any attempts to gag the media or any other action that will cripple its operations", the president told participants drawn from across the wider East African region and beyond.

That is a strong public commitment to the protection of media freedom that we trust the new government will uphold.

Kenya Editors' Guild also welcomes the promise to fast-track pieces of legislation crucial to protection and regulation of the media space that have been in abeyance for too long.

Of particular interest to us is the Media Bill, the Communications Bill, the Freedom of Information Bill and the Data Protection Bill.

The first two are existing laws that have been revised to bring the media freedom and regulatory framework in concert with the freedoms guaranteed by the expansive Bill of Rights in the new Constitution.

The other two are new laws written to further actualize the rights and freedoms protected by the  constitution.

All these laws have been the product of protracted negotiation involving various stakeholders.

They are products of a consultative process and thus are not the property of any single entity.

We are concerned, however, that the long delay getting the Bills enacted as law indicates reluctance of some forces in government to ceding ground to a liberal dispensation.

It has also come to our attention that drafts that came out of the consultative process may have been unilaterally amended and watered-down by State bureaucrats before presentation to Parliament.

We ask the president to make good on his promise and direct the relevant government arms present the Bills before Parliament without further delay -- in the versions agreed on by stakeholders.

At this juncture, we would note that the spirit of the new constitution will be realized not just by legislation, but also by political will to accept and advance new ideas.

That the Freedom of Information Bill has not yet been passed is often used by Government officials as an excuse to deny the media information that ought to be in the public domain.

We would therefore ask the president to, in the interim, direct all public officials to abandon the culture of secrecy and opacity, and respond to all requests as if the Freedom of Information Bill is already law.

On this occasion, we also note with sadness that too many officials are still stuck in the old ways.

In the recent past we have witnessed no less than members of the Judiciary vetted in a transparent fashion open to the media and to the public.

We are also looking forward in the next few days to President Kenyatta's nominees for Cabinet Secretary interviewed publicly in an open vetting process.

It therefore is inexplicable that the Public Service Commission has decided to hold behind closed doors interviews for those shortlisted on applying for appointment as Principal Secretary.

The reasons offered for this decision do not hold water in an environment where the trend is towards openness and accountability.

We therefore ask the Chair of the Public Service Commission, Prof Margaret Kobia, to reconsider that retrogressive and backward decision to lock the media out of the  interviews.

A process cannot be transparent and participatory if held in secrecy.

Signed

MACHARIA GAITHO

Chair, Kenya Editors' Guild

May 2, 2013

Friends of Kenya Editors Guild