An umbrella organisation of media players has put on notice President William Ruto’s cabinet secretaries and other top officers hell-bent on curtailing media freedom in the country.
This as pressure is mounting on Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria to quit his position with the Opposition calling for him to be declared unfit to hold office over his utterances against Nation Media Group (NMG).
On Wednesday June 21, the Kenya Media Sector Working Group, in a joint press briefing, said they will be moving to court to seek for the declaration as unfit to hold office of top Kenya Kwanza government officials threatening media freedom.
Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Secretary-General Eric Oduor said the move is based on Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership and integrity.
“We have already begun a court process to declare top officials in the Kenya Kwanza government to be declared unfit to hold office based on their utterances,” said Mr Oduor.
He decried there have been sustained attacks on the media since the Kenya Kwanza administration came to office 10 months ago with the most recent attacks triggered by an exposé of corruption in government and other stories projecting voices demanding accountability on the part of the government.
The KUJ boss said the President Ruto government has been hostile to the media which has seen them to the extent of assaulting journalists, a case in point being during the anti-government protests by the Opposition.
He argued that the consistent attacks on the media are attempts to divert public attention from widespread theft of public funds and other governance challenges facing the new administration.
However, he said the media will not be cowed from holding the government to account by the sustained threats and intimidation.
“The attacks by the ruling regime is not anything new. The media has been a target of ruling regimes but we are not going to cede even an inch of the space we are operating in,” said Mr Oduor.
“We accept criticism but let us not go personal against journalists and media houses. We will continue to hold those in power to account without fear,” he added.
Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) president Zubeida Koome called on President Ruto to issue a firm assurance they will not be allowed to seek shelter by trying to silence media that exposes their misdeeds.
She asked the government to stop targeting and intimidating the media which is only discharging its responsibility to the public.
Instead, said Ms Koome, the government should respond to concerns by Kenyans on the scandals exposed by the media in the past 10 months, including diversion of condemned sugar into the market, repackaging and sale of subsidised fertiliser, Sh3.7 billion Kemsa scandal, concerns over the management of NHIF and use of advertising revenue as a tool to blackmail the media.
Others are interference with independent institutions, especially National Lands Commission; the Shakahola horror, failure to investigate and take action against those responsible for attacks against journalists, especially during the recent public protests over skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, among other key issues.
“As the media, we affirm our commitment to discharging our role including holding this regime to account for the good of Kenyans as we have done previous regimes since independence and re-state that we will not be cowed into submission,” said Ms Koome.
“We stand in solidarity with Nation Media Group and all journalists in the country against attacks and threats from government officials.”
The KEG boss called on those aggrieved by the media to seek redress through the Media Complaints Commission established under the Media Council Act and where necessary through the courts.
She also dispelled propaganda by Kenya Kwanza that the media took a collective position in support of a specific candidate in the 2022 elections.
Ms Koome said they view the propaganda by the government as an attempt to blackmail and arm-twist the media into ceasing scrutiny of the government and those wielding power and authority.
“We call on the government to stop this uncalled for propaganda and continued hostile political rhetoric against the media and journalists.”
Meanwhile, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna has called on the Senate to find Mr Kuria unfit to hold an office of high calling of the level of a cabinet secretary.
In a planned censure motion before the Senate, the ODM Secretary-General wants the Senate to resolve to censure the CS over his attacks on the media.
Mr Sifuna also wants the President Ruto's government to be compelled to state that CS Kuria's utterances are individual and personal views not reflecting official policy of Kenya Kwanza regime.
“We want an assurance to be made to the media in this country that their freedom as enshrined in the constitution shall be safeguarded regardless of their opinions and views on national issues,” said Mr Sifuna.
The Senate deputy minority whip expressed concern that Mr Kuria’s reckless tongue has now reached an unmatched level of infamy in the country, adding that his divisive, abusive and demeaning rhetoric continues to cause consternation.
He said that the CS has chosen to run a vendetta against the NMG for its perceived failure to echo the regime's lies and false promises.
The MP added that on the same day, the CS went on his verified social media accounts to post a screenshot to celebrate a drop in the share price of the NMG.
“An attack on one media house, as history has shown in other jurisdictions, often leads to attacks on press freedom as a whole,” said Mr Sifuna. “CS Kuria, having established himself as the loose tongue of the government, may indeed be speaking the official position of his government.”
He said Article 34 (2) of the Constitution enshrines the freedom of press by stating that the State shall not exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, production or circulation of any publication or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium or penalise any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.