Yesterday was yet another dark day for journalists in Kenya when a Nairobi court ruled that they must disclose sources of information given to them in confidence.
The court said nothing in the country’s laws exempted journalists from disclosing sources of their articles when asked to do so by courts of law and tribunals.
Resident Magistrate, Felix Kombo said journalists’ conviction that they would not be compelled to disclose sources of information given to them in confidence had no legal justification.
The magistrate observed that the Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya was not law and was therefore not binding on persons outside the profession, not least the courts.
” The court is not bound by the code of conduct and ethics of any organisation in exercising its functions unless where such code is coined into law.
The allegation that a journalist cannot be compelled to reveal a source of information has no legal foundation and if that were the intention, there would have been clear privileges inserted in the Evidence Act on the issue. As things stand, none exists’’, he said.
Kombo was ruling in an application by the State and defence counsel in a theft case in the Bishop Gilbert Deya miracles babies’ saga.
The State and a defence lawyer, Odhiambo Wakla have applied to the court to have a reporter with The Standard, Evelyn Kwamboka, take the witness stand to reveal sources of a court story published on June 28.
The story was to the effect that a German diplomat had moved to court to be allowed to adopt one of the miracle babies, who are a subject of a court case.
Yesterday, the magistrate said the court has sufficient authority to summon any body in the interest of justice and to safeguard the integrity of the due process of the law.
” The court holds a view that journalists do not need privileges as they must at all times be fair and accurate in what they report. They should defend what they write within their parameters.
From a sensible point of view, this court will not unduly engage or invite harm into the life of a journalist by asking him or her to disclose particular sources of information but in certain cases where no such apprehension exists, a journalist must be made to account and cannot be expected to seek refuge behind a code of conduct.’’
This is the second time in independent Kenya when defence lawyers have sought to have court journalists disclose how they have obtained information used in their stories.
The first incident was in March 2003 when lawyers for President Kibaki asked the court to investigate how the The Standard’s Chief Court Reporter, Nyakundi Nyamboga, obtained information in a story on a Sh10million debt case against the Head of State and three others.
The President’s lawyer, Alex Gatundu had sought that the writer be cited for ‘’contempt on the face of the court’’ for publishing the story.
In a landmark ruling, Justice Erastus Githinji held that journalists were free to gather information on what goes on in court from whatever source as long as it was accurate.
The judge said court reporters need not be present in court to file stories on proceedings.
Defence lawyer, Mr Chrispin Odhiambo yesterday indicated to the court he wanted the issue of compelling journalists disclose sources of their information referred to a constitutional court.
He was allowed to urge his application beginning August 31.