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Out of infamy, a new hope for journalists is born

By | March 3rd 2010

By John Oywa

The Standard Group has launched an endowment fund to champion journalistic excellence and defend press freedoms in memory of the day Government agents raided its studios and printing press four years ago.

And Speaker of the National Assembly Mr Kenneth Marende stood in solidarity with the media fraternity, calling for dialogue between media and all arms of Government.

Speaker Kenneth Marende (centre and inset) and lawyer Paul Muite (left) share a light moment with Standard Group Deputy Chairman Paul Melly and Group managing director Paul Wanyagah on Tuesday. 

Saying confrontation would only hurt the country’s growth agenda, the Speaker described the raid, dubbed the Day of Infamy as "the darkest day for the media industry.

"It was meant to erode the democratic gains in the country. It is sad that today, Kenyans have not been told the reason for the raid," said Marende, who was the chief guest at the anniversary.

The event was attended by top officials of the Media Council of Kenya, the Editors’ Guild and representatives of leading media houses.

The Standard Group’s Deputy Chairman and Strategy Adviser Paul Melly said the Group will donate an initial Sh1 million to the endowment fund, to be run by independent trustees.

"We have since healed and moved on and an indelible mark of infamy has now been transformed to be marked as Standard Group Press Freedom Day," said Melly. The fund will help promote and recognise good journalism across the country.

Speaking at the Standard Group Centre on Mombasa Road during the fourth anniversary of the raid on Tuesday, Melly said the fund shall encourage other media houses and private sector participation, as well as international support.

Switched Off

The attack on The Standard Group, during which KTN was switched off air, and thousands of the day’s paper set afire, coincided with the day populist politician JM Kariuki was killed 35 years earlier.

The closest the State came to admitting its role in the heinous act was through the comments by then Internal Security Minister John Michuki, who said if one rattled a snake, then he should be prepared to be bitten.

Yesterday, Marende and former Kabete MP Paul Muite described the raid by hooded and armed Government agents as the worst affront on Kenyan media.

Guests and the Standard Group staff who gathered at the company premises watched in silence as images of the raid were replayed on giant TV screens. The event was also transmitted live on KTN.

Muite challenged Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whom he praised for condemning the raid in 2006, to use his powers to help unravel the mystery behind the attack on the media company.

Delicate gadgets

"The PM should meet the ministers in charge of Information, Internal Security and Justice and Constitutional Affairs to discuss the raid," said Muite.

WINNING TEAM: Some of the 15 Standard Group journalists feted Tuesdayt for winning awards in national and international competitions last year .[PHOTO: MAXWELL AGWANDA/STANDARD]

He added: " As the Prime Minister who stood with the media at the time of the raid, he should ask police to return the computers and other delicate broadcasting gadgets to The Standard. I am sure by now the police have opened the computers and seen their contents. If they have not, the Standard should give them the passwords."

Muite also asked the Government to make public the report by the Shedrack Kiruki-led Commission that investigated the activities of the two shadowy Armenian men, better known as the Artur Brothers, who were widely believed to have taken part in the raid.

"The Kiruki report should be made public so that Kenyans can know what they found out. There is no reason for shelving it," Muite said while commending the Group for consistently demanding answers from the Government.

The former MP urged the media to resist Government attempts to gag the media. "The beneficiaries of a free media are not the owners or even the journalists but members of the public," Muite added.

Marende caused laughter when he said he had a hard time deciding whether to attend the ceremony or not since he believed unsavoury things were likely to be said about the Government over the raid.

"After a thorough soul searching, I decided to attend this ceremony because I believe we need to talk, listen to one another and dialogue as Kenyans," he said.

He said a vibrant media was crucial in checking Government excesses.

"A knowledgeable media plays a crucial role in nation-building because many Kenyans rely on the media to access information," he said. Other members of the Standard Group management in attendance were Managing Director Paul Wanyagah and directors John Opiyo and Sarvjeet Channa and assistant directors John Bundotich (Editorial) Nelly Matheka (Legal and Human Resources), Lawrence Njiru (Commercial) and Peter Gichui (Creative Services).

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