The minister of trade of Kenya accused a major media outlet of being partisan amidst insults to journalists working for the media outlet.
Moses Kuria, Kenya’s Trade Cabinet Secretary, uttered disparaging remarks against the Nation Media Group (NMG). Specifically, Kuria labelled the media as an “opposition party” as he questioned whether the NMG is newspaper, broadcasting house or an opposition party. The minister went further by threatening to fire any government official who advertised with the media group. According to media sources, Kuria also took the assault to Twitter and tagged the workers at the NMG as prostitutes.
The minister also claimed that journalists at the NMG had confessed to being coerced to write anti-government stories by their editors and management in the past.
Kuria made the comments after the NTV, the media outlet’s television station, aired an investigation into an alleged scandal over an import scheme operated by a state body in Kuria’s ministry. The investigation alleged that government officials were involved in a corrupt scheme related to duty-free cooking oil imports, which, incurred substantial financial losses for taxpayers.
Kuria’s comments against the privately owned NMG have sparked outrage and raised concerns over press freedom. Journalists and media professionals in Kenya condemned the offensive remarks, calling for the minister to retract them and issue a proper apology.
On June 21, 2023, Kuria refused to apologize despite the widespread criticism, and claimed that nobody was more pro-media than him.
Meanwhile, the High Court in Nairobi issued a censure motion against Kuria, preventing him from further insulting or vilifying the media. The injunction will remain in effect pending the hearing of a petition that accuses the minister of breaching the values of governance and leadership as outlined by the Kenyan constitution. The court is scheduled to hear the case on July 24, 2023.
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) strongly condemns Honorable Kuria’s verbal attacks on the Nation Media Group. We urge the politician to resort to other appropriate channels to address his concerns.
We commend the swift action of the High Court in Nairobi in response to the incident that can easily coerce the media into self-censorship, hence suppressing press freedom.
As representatives of the Kenyan state, government officials are expected to protect and promote fundamental freedoms, which include freedom of expression. Conversely, the media play an important role in ensuring that citizens are well-informed and that those in positions of power are held accountable. It is therefore unsettling that a top government official like Honorable Moses Kuria resorts to attacking the media when he comes under pressure to account to the public.