Press stress

Kenya: Media houses up in arms over attacks by Ruto government

By Victor Abuso

Posted on June 27, 2023 11:56

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry Moses Kuria addresses delegates ahead of the voluntary auction of carbon credits, at the auction in Nairobi © File photo of Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry Moses Kuria.(REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)
File photo of Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Investments, Trade and Industry Moses Kuria.(REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)

Pressure groups in Kenya as well as the opposition coalition, Azimio la Umoja, are calling for the censure of Trade Minister Moses Kuria over his continued verbal attack on the media, which threatens freedom of the press.

In the past week, Kuria, a close ally of President William Ruto, has used derogatory remarks in a series of tweets and threatened economic sanctions against journalists from Nation Media Group, a leading local and regional media outlet. This follows their publication of an alleged scandal in the importation of edible oils involving officials from Kuria’s ministry.

In a tweet he wrote in Kiswahili, Kuria called the journalists “prostitutes” and then threatened government officials against advertising with the media group.

“You will be fired if you advertise on Nation Media,” Kuria said.

During a food distribution event last weekend in Murang’a, Central Kenya, Kuria repeated his threats, accusing Kenyan journalists of behaving like an ‘an opposition party’.

“These prostitutes from the media keep accusing us wrongly,” he told the crowd in his native Kikuyu language.

Ruto supports Kuria

President William Ruto has come out to support Kuria’s remarks terming them as “freedom of expression”.

Ruto said that while his government is keen on defending media freedom he will also defend people who criticise the media.

“We must defend the people who hold the media to account. The media writes propaganda and falsehood against his government,” he said.

We defeated the media and their candidate [Raila Odinga] during elections

His deputy Rigathi Gachagua has also openly supported the attack on the media, accusing journalists of supporting the opposition during last year’s political campaigns.

“We defeated the media and their candidate [Raila Odinga] during elections,” he said.

Last Wednesday, the opposition coalition of Azimio la Umoja senators staged a walkout from the chambers, after their censure motion against Kuria was dismissed by speaker of the Senate Amason Kingi.

Meanwhile, a case has been filed at a Nairobi Court by a private citizen, challenging Kuria’s suitability as minister. The petitioner wants Kuria found guilty of breaching values of governance and leadership.

The court has issued an injunction against him from insulting or vilifying the media, pending the hearing of the case, scheduled on 24 July.

Protect media freedom, lobby groups urge

The Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) and the Kenya Editors’ Guild have condemned Kuria’s remarks, saying he has become a symbol of national shame.

“You are an embarrassment to Kenyans. The media will outlive your political career,” said Eric Oduor, the Kenya Union of Journalists secretary-general, in reference to Kuria.

“Kuria’s remarks are unwarranted, uncalled for and totally off the mark,” says a statement from Kenya Editors Guild, demanding an unconditional apology.

Kuria has remained adamant saying he will not apologise for insulting the media.

Angela Quintal, the Africa Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), wants Kuria to retract his threats and the Kenyan government to guarantee media freedom.

“The vile insults and threats expose a disturbing disregard for constitutionally protected freedoms of the press,” she said.

According to the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index, Kenya continues to drop in the standings after it was ranked 69 out of 180.

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