Posted: July 19, 2011 in OPINION

Kenya media is losing big time to politicians. Is it really about ethics or about public interest?

Politicians have been on a spending spree, recking in millions of cash from media houses. And this trend doesn’t seem to stop.

On 15th this month KTN was ordered to pay Uhuru Kenyatta Ksh. 7M in a defamatory case. The media house had linked the DPM to the 2008 PEV “without credible evidence.” The story aired by KTN on January is said to have helped Raila Odinga in spreading false statements he made regarding the PEV “portraying Uhuru before the public as a mass murderer.” Led in his chief evidence by Deseterio Oyatsi, Uhuru accused KTN of negligence for failing to verify the truthfulness of Raila’s statement.

Uhuru further raised a fundamental and ethical issue in the manner the story was reported. The failure on the part of KTN to accord him the right of reply in a sensitive story touching on his credibility. He was concerned that KTN went ahead to air one side of the story without seeking his response on the matter. This of course is a serious breach of ethical principles in journalism. KTN should have known this better than Uhuru and its negligence in this regard leaves me wondering if the station was indeed concerned only after defaming the DPM or inform its viewers of news worth story. The case was heard and determined by high court judge Kaplana Rawal

There is absolutely no doubt that the issue KTN was reporting on (PEV and Mungiki’s alleged involvement) was a matter of public interest. It was however silly of a media house the status of KTN to run with it without simple facts and necessary caution. In defence, KTN ignorantly pleaded for qualified defence as it was information coming from another party.

On Thursday 23rd Feb 2010, a cabinet minister won a defamation case against a media house and a weekly publication. Judge Hatari Waweru entered a judgment against Radio Africa Limited which runs Kiss FM for airing a libelous remark about Water minister Charity Ngilu six years earlier.

Mr. Justice Waweru entered judgment against Kiss FM employees Caroline Mutoko and Carol Radull who presented the morning radio programme, “The Big Breakfast Show.”

The judge struck out defences filed by the defendants and entered an interlocutory judgment against them severally.

The judge said the weekly (Citizen weekly) in its issue of July 4/10, 2005, falsely, maliciously and spitefully libeled the minister by alleging she had misbehaved at a parking lot in a members’ club in Nairobi .

“The defences by the defendants are scandalous, frivolous and vexatious aimed to embarrass or delay the fair trial of the case and therefore an abuse of the court process,” Mr Justice Waweru said in his ruling. He said the minister tendered evidence to show she was in London at the time she was alleged to have been at the club. She also tabled evidence of minutes of the committee of the club stating nothing “of that sort happened in that club.”

So, aren’t these simple facts that a media house ought to have established before bluffing about it on radio? Isnt this purely irresponsible?

In October 1998 – the most interesting victories against the media was yet another defamation case won against Nation Media Group by one Mr. Peter Baraza. In an article “Man is injured for milking a jumbo,” the article alleged that Mr. Baraza from Nyahururu broke his ribs and limbs when the elephant hit and threw him into air upon realizing that he was milking it. Mr. Baraza however denied ever milking an elephant leave alone being hit by one. He moved to court and sued the Nation for publishing an inaccurate story about him. As a result he said that the media house injured his character, exposed him to ridicule and caused him to be shunned by the public. In his verdict, Justice Luka Kimaru awarded Mr. Baraza Ksh. 2Million in damages.

Where and did NMG get such a story? Where was the writer of such a story? And hard is to prove that the said person was hit by a jumbo if indeed he was?

On March 25th 2010, a 3 judge bench led by then Appellete Judge Phillip Tunoi awarded former MP J. J Kamotho and his sons Ksh. 14Million in another defamatory case against the NMG this time involving a call-in show on its FM radio station.

In 2002, Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch ordered Kalamka Ltd, the then publisher of The People Newspaper to pay Nicholas Biwott a whooping Ksh. 20Million in yet another defamatory case. The newspaper had in a March 10th 1999 story alleged that Mr. Biwott was involved in corruption deals in a Turkwell Gorge project. And as usual, the defence could not sustain any reasonable arguement in favor of their case. Mr. Biwott went away a happy man. Today, The people Daily has since changed ownership. Could they have been left bankrupt?

On April 30th 2008, the Standard Newspaper was also ordered to pay Ksh. 7Million to Justice AB Shah in defamation. During the judicial purge that the Narc government did then, the paper did a story titled “Disgraced judges who had been allowed to practice” Offended by the article Justice Shah who featured in it sought redress in the court and won. Big time!

In May 2009 Judge Michael Khamoni (the same who ruled in favor of judge Shah) delivered another landmark victory against the Sunday Nation. NMG paid Ksh. 10Million to Charau Ali Mwakwere in a defamatory case. The article had alleged that Mwakwere was one of the politicians said to have been picking up prostitutes on Koinange street. He won the case.

Of course the media has hardly won any such cases. There are isolated cases where the media had had the last laugh and mostly not on the strength of their defence.

Like on Thursday January 2005, the government dropped libel charges instituted against a Standard journalist Kamau Ngotho for a January 8th article “Mr Moneybags” that he wrote about one Mr. John Macharia. The then Deputy Public Prosecutor Mr. Philip Murgor, appeared before Nairobi Chief Magistrate Aggrey Muchelule and tendered a nolle prosequi (no prosecution) considering the constitutional position and the surrounding circumstances. The AG directed termination of the case under Section 82 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) of the then constitution. The defence lawyers were Dr. Githu Muigai and Mr David Majanja. The court ruled  also that the writer be refunded Ksh. 20, 000 that he had deposited as bail.

And so long as facts and ethics will be overlooked, the media is still going to be crying and counting their losses from these court battles.

I believe that the best protection against our profession is not even the law but adherence to ethics and accuracy.

  1. Original Kenyan says:

    The media in Kenya are not about public interest…they have their own (or someone’s) agenda and Kenyans are the big losers in the long run… The media know how they should do their job so when they handle such sensitive issues like the Uhuru case in the manner that they did, they do it coz they know Kenyans are gullible. We think that as they claim, they are about truth, public interest, blah blah…the reality is that Kenya is now a dictatorship under the all-powerful…media! Politicians know this and make use of them well to further their interests – how else can you explain the Uhuru story?

  2. nathan nayere says:

    the kenya defamation law and judiciary are hostile to free speech and there is urgent need to review the defamation law to avoid chilling and intimidation of the media. The powerful and rich politicians lead the tyrany against freedom of expression by invoking defamation law.

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