Raid on Nairobi Media Group Causes Backlash

By Otula Owuor
Special to Global Wire

Last week’s raid by Kenyan police that dismantled the Nairobi-based Standard Group’s printing press and halted business at its television station, KTN, was the result of controversy about a story in The Standard newspaper on Feb. 26. The story reported that President Mwai Kibaki had met in secret with an opposition leader. Members of the government say the story was inaccurate.

It now appears that the raid was a major blunder by the minister in charge of internal security. The chief of police, who was out of the country during the raid, has confirmed that he was not aware of plans to assault the media house.

The assault could backfire. To most Kenyans, the raid was an extreme overreaction. Kenyan laws could easily deal with accusations of inaccurate reporting, and most citizens feel that the government should not be taking those laws into its own hands.

Things could get worse, however. The government has several choices. It might apologize and fire those responsible. Or it could choose to act tough and come up with all manner of charges against the Standard Group in the name of national security.

The Standard Group and Nation Group, leading Kenyan media houses participating with the International Women’s Media Foundation in the Maisha Yetu project to improve reporting on health issues, continue to expose massive corruption among the ruling elites of Kenya, a tradition begun during the regime of former president Daniel Arap Moi. The difference now is President Kibaki was elected to office with the promise of eliminating inefficiency and corruption.

If the raid was intended to teach the media a lesson, it has backfired. Widespread demonstrations were expected in major cities on March 7, and most citizens are in sympathy with The Standard. Many Kenyans are calling the illegal raid a conspiracy between the minister for internal security -- known for his “no nonsense” approach --and some police officers. The public tends to interpret such acts as efforts to divert their attention -- in this case away from massive corruption scandals nicknamed “Anglo-leasing” and “Goldernberg” which have cost the nation more than $2 billion.

Kenyans value a free press. A day after the raid, The Standard was back in the streets with more investigative stories and people are buying up issues. KTN, the Standard Group’s pioneering private TV station, is also back on the air. Still, the media house fears authorities may manipulate information taken from computers they confiscated from its newsroom to manufacture "proof" that the newspaper is endangering national security.

The usually competitive Kenyan media have steadfastly condemned the raid. Others in government, however, seem to support it. Minister for Justice and Constitution Martha Karua said that media are not above the law and should be investigated.

The issue is not over and may only cool only when the courts get involved. For now, Kenyans are suddenly realizing that they are just too close to nations run as dictatorships or police states.

Otula Owuor is a Kenyan journalist who is the local trainer for the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Maisha Yetu project to improve the quality and consistency of reporting on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.


Post a Comment

<< Home