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Kenya's President Rejects Media Bill

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki Tuesday rejected a clause in a proposed media bill that would have limited press freedom. Arjun Kohli reports from VOA's East Africa Bureau in Nairobi the move was welcomed by Kenya's rights advocates.

The president's action represents a major victory for journalists who had staged street demonstrations for a week to protest the media bill. The provision the president rejected would have stripped the media of its right to keep sources confidential.

The chairwoman of the East African Foreign Correspondents Association, Tia Goldenberg, tells VOA the journalists' role as a government watchdog would be considerably hindered if the bill was passed.

"I think that particularly in Kenya most of the journalists rely on whistle blowers to reveal information on the various corruption scandals that have blocked this country," she said. "This is just a fundamental for journalists that we act as watchdogs of the government and we rely on people's information and even if that information is anonymous it should be to our discretion to use it or not and such a bill threatens that."

The parliamentary editor for the Nation Media group, Owino Opondo, said the media bill was highly controversial.

"In my view as a parliamentary editor I believe that it was a wise move because we see a president that listens to the voice of reason," said Opondo. "There was a lot of discontent which came with opposition to this particular bill not from the media fraternity but also from Kenyans, from the civil society and from lawyers, from people who had read the nasty amendment and it was not going to do any good to the president or the government."

The biggest battle between the Kenyan media and the government occurred last year when heavily armed police broke into a newspaper office, burned the day's issue, destroyed broadcasting equipment and carried away computers.

On an earlier occasion, the First Lady Lucy Kibaki stormed into a newspaper office and harassed journalists on the eve of the World Press Freedom Day.

Still, journalists in Kenya say they feel they have greater freedom now than during the 24-year reign of President Daniel arap Moi when journalists were reported to have been kidnapped and tortured.

Opondo says greater media freedom allows journalists to uncover many cases of corruption.

"You realize issues such as the grand corruption that the nation media group has actually exposed, like the Anglo leasing," added Opondo. "This could not have happened if we did not have some semblance of freedom in the media."

The Anglo Leasing scandal is considered a prime example of attempts by corrupt government officials to perpetrate fraud on the Kenyan taxpayer through non-delivery of goods and services and massive overpricing.