Journalists have expressed outrage at an apparent threat to press freedom following a tweet by Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot branding the media a cartel that needs to be crushed for the sake of public good.
The tweet, which had been read by 86,100 people just four hours after he posted it, said: “Pres WSR [President William Samoei Ruto] will succeed in crushing every cartel in the country save for two that are extremely powerful. 1. KE Banks [Kenyan banks] 2. KE Media [Kenyan media]. Both are very powerful, influential, and synergise so well to protect each other’s interests. For public good, a way must be found.”
Reacting to the tweet, Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) Chairperson William Oloo Janak termed it an assault on media freedom.
“[It’s unacceptable for] a member of parliament who legislates laws to talk about the media being a cartel,” he said, adding: “We will work very hard and mobilise the entire media fraternity to defend media freedom and Article 34 of the Constitution.”
Mr Janak argued that gagging the media, which gives Kenyans a platform to exercise their freedom of expression, undermines democracy, freedom of expression and access to information.
Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary-General Eric Oduor called the tweet “the biggest threat to press freedom in recent times.”
“We don’t take that lightly given that he is also a close associate of the President,” said Mr Oduor.
“If anybody in the government had a problem with the media let them come forward through the Media Complaints Commission and I am sure the matter will be resolved,” he added.
In a statement, Kenya Editors Guild President Churchill Otieno said the senator’s utterances are a threat to media freedom and an affront on the country’s democracy.
“The Kenya Editors Guild is alarmed by a reckless and worrying post on Twitter by [Mr Cheruiyot] .... upbraiding the media as a cartel. Mr Cheruiyot, in his ill-omened classification, divulges that President Ruto is intentioned on crushing Kenya’s media, alongside the banking sector,” Mr Otieno said.
“It is dumbfounding that the senator sees the media as a cartel rather than a catalyst of Kenya’s democratic discourse without which many politicians of his ilk would never have emerged to become anything worth quoting. If we are to take his comment seriously, the senator is saying that the President is keen to crush the media. We hope he is wrong and that President Ruto and his government have no such designs,” he added.
Advising the senator to engage the Media Complaints Commission with any competent claim, Mr Otieno explained that, by enacting articles 34,35 and 36, the framers of the Constitution wanted to throw off future attempts to silence the media.
“It is expected that Mr Cheruiyot is aware of the constitutional avenues available to people or entities who for whatever reason feel aggrieved by the media. All national leaders have a duty to promote the rule of law and it is very concerning when a key leader in parliament chooses the rule of the jungle on any matter,” said Otieno.
Last year, while marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Information, Communication and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo defended the government, terming it as respectful of media freedom.
“We do not believe in gagging the media. Responsible media regulates itself, in line with the laws of the land and the ethics of the profession. My ministry and the Kenya Kwanza government will continue to defend the freedom of the media, alongside other civil liberties” Owalo had said.