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Kenya's President Considers Law Limiting Press Freedom

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki is reviewing a controversial amendment to the country's media law that, if approved, could send reporters to jail for refusing to reveal their sources. Caroline Sawyer has details from our East Africa office in Nairobi.

Critics say the controversial amendment to Kenya's Media Bill, under review by the president, will not just affect journalists, but it will also mean the war on corruption is threatened because confidential sources will no longer be protected by anonymity.

The Africa director for press watchdog Reporters without Borders, Leonard Vincent, says he believes the proposed amendment will damage much more than Kenya's reputation for having a relatively free press.

"This is something that is against all democratic principles and all the rules of journalism," said Vincent. "We do not understand this move, this late amendment, and we do not understand why the government let this amendment go because it jeopardizes all the good things that could have been passed through this bill."

The of tension between Kenya's media and the government has been mounting for the last 18 months. The most dramatic incident occurred in March, 2006, when police raided the offices of Kenya Television Network and the local Standard newspaper, after information was leaked to the media about a secret meeting between President Kibaki and a member of the opposition party.

Many Kenyans believe this new move by the government is meant to prevent media reports on political deals being made prior to Kenya's general elections, which are scheduled for December.

Leonard Vincent says there are press freedom problems around the world, including in the United States, but this latest move by the Kenyans is a step backwards.

"There is another aspect of the bill that is concerning us, is that there is a provision that says that the journalist who would refuse to comply with the commissions requirement could be fined to fines not exceeding 50,000 shillings or prison terms and this is something that we cannot understand, that a journalist should be sent to prison for refusing to comply with the media council," said Vincent.

President Kibaki, who won a landslide victory in Kenya's first free democratic elections in 2002, is preparing to run in this year's elections.

Since taking over from former president Daniel arap Moi, President Kibaki has vowed to improve press freedom and human rights as well as fight corruption. He also promised to step down after one term in power. The Kenyan leader has until October to decide whether to sign the new amendment into law or to return it to Parliament.