The National Assembly has declared war against the media after it summoned two journalists from the People Daily after they wrote a story that detailed rampant corruption in House committees.
The MPs censored the paper’s two parliamentary reporters, Dinah Ondari and Anthony Mwangi, over a story that appeared in the Monday edition of the paper and which portrayed House committees as “dens of leeches and grounds infested by shoals of piranhas driven by lust for self-gain”.
In the story, the two reporters had said the committees have largely now been turned into positions which provide opportunity for rent seeking, cover-up and shoddy investigations into matters of great public interest.
The reporters claim to have interviewed MPs from various committees and investigative agencies and established that as much as Sh500 million may have exchanged hands in the dirty dealings between the MPs and various parties being investigated by the 12th Parliament.
The parties include wealthy individuals, parastatal chiefs and government institutions whose operations have been the subject of investigations by the committees.
The angry legislators attacked the media, accusing them of taking advantage of the respect accorded to them to scandalise Parliament in the guise of press freedom and demanded that Speaker Justin Muturi prevents journalists from covering Parliament.
Endebess MP Robert Pukose triggered the furore when he took issue with the paper’s headline on Monday titled “House of bribes”.
He accused the media house of generalising issues and calling members “predators”.
He also accused the two journalists of exploiting parliamentary immunity to malign MPs and sought the Speaker’s intervention to throw them out.
“This matter is weighty regarding the freedom of press in the coverage of plenary and committees. Scrutiny of Parliament is not a ticket to scandalise the institution. The story is questionable,” said Dr Pukose.
He noted the report by the two reporters contained “strong accusations” leading to the conclusion that Parliament is a den of bribery and MPs are predators.
“We must listen to the two. They should answer all the questions. Instead of dealing with specific issues on the mandate of MPs, they condemn us based on hearsay. Media [are] a thankless lot,” he said as he implored Mr Muturi to throw them out.
But Mr Muturi rejected the call to ban the two and instead ordered the Committee on Powers and Privileges to summon the journalists to shed more light on the story.
However, he excused himself from chairing the committee, traditionally chaired by the Speaker, and directed Mukurweini MP Anthony Kiai to preside over the sessions.
He will be deputised by West Mugirango MP Vincent Mogaka.
“This matter is grave. I convene the Powers and Privileges Committee to assemble immediately to probe the allegations which border on criminal acts,” ruled Mr Muturi.
But he warned the committee against condemning the journalists.
“They should be accorded fair hearing as the information they have may help us streamline our operations and (they) must be treated with utmost respect,” the Speaker said.
Majority Leader Aden Duale said media enjoy space in Parliament and should not use the privilege accorded to them to disparage and injure the reputation of the House.
“I don’t take newspapers seriously myself,” he said.
“Journalists who cover Parliament should be trained like those in the US Congress. They are seconded to various committees and should focus on substantive issues. We are a very busy House,” Mr Duale added.
Minority leader John Mbadi questioned the accuracy of the story and warned that lamping all MPs as compromised and receiving bribes was unfair.
“Journalists act out of emotions and pen sensational stories. They should respect the freedom of press,” said Mr Mbadi.