Media, government should find way of resolving differences

Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria’s reputation as the enfant terrible of Kenyan politics precedes him. He has been known to use colourful language to express his frustrations at perceived detractors. The latest episode includes choice epithets directed at a media house over a perceived slight.

Many Kenyans hold the view that the CS’s language is reprehensible and unbecoming of a senior official of the government. Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi is reported as having “distanced the Kenya Kwanza administration from sentiments by the Trade CS noting that they were not the official government position”. Mudavadi reiterates that “the government is committed to a free, vibrant and objective media.”

Kuria’s latest spat with the press is informed by a media-driven investigation implicating his ministry in an alleged cooking oil import scandal. On the face of it, this investigation has taken place over several months.  A number of questions arise: Were the CS’s comments on the issue sought? Was he accorded the right of reply in a timely manner?

One would expect that for objectivity’s sake, a week or two be given for a cogent response. Such a response may be a practical impossibility when comments are sought two hours from going to press.

The importance of a free and fair media cannot be gainsaid. It is not for nothing that the press is known as the Fourth Estate, expected to oversight all three arms of government. Yet because as the adage goes, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” this power to provide checks and balances to the Executive, Parliament and Judiciary must be used in an impartial manner.

One remembers that not too long ago, the media ran headlines about malfeasance at the Kenya Pipeline Corporation (KPC). Then, it was claimed that Sh95 billion had been siphoned from the State corporation.

Even when the management at the time stated correctly that such a heist was impossible given that the company’s capitalisation was less than Sh30 billion, they were never accorded the right of reply. Subsequent events in a court of law have vindicated KPC managers, a little too late for some of them who may have suffered permanent reputational damage.

Perhaps the way out is to cut Kuria-types some slack; to give them the same latitude accorded to former President Mwai Kibaki who repeatedly described people as being no better than chicken poop without sanction. Or retired President Uhuru Kenyatta who declared his contempt of the press by saying newspapers were only good for wrapping meat.

He was never subjected to gag orders. And there is certainly a lot of good that the Kenya Kwanza administration has done that should be heralded. Kenyans should be treated to positive stories and not the usual doom and gloom narratives. For instance, the impact of the hiring of more than 30,000 teachers to redress the issues precipitated by the policy of 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school.

Or the bottom of the pyramid economic empowerment of the Hustler Fund. Hitherto, more than Sh30 billion has been disbursed. Or the fact after more than 10 years, the guns in the killing fields of the North Rift have now been silenced!

Mr Khafafa is a Public Policy Analyst