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From meat wrappers to cartels: Kenyan media is every politician’s punching bag

Retired president Uhuru Kenyatta once famously said “gazeti ni ya kufunga nyama (newspapers are only useful in wrapping meat)” apparently to spite the Kenyan media over what at the time he termed as slanted and inaccurate news coverage by the Fourth Estate.

That was way back in 2015, when Mr Kenyatta was midway into his first term of office. And just like that, Kenyan journalists took up the unflattering nickname “meat wrappers.”

Eight years down the line, that derisive moniker seems to have gone out of fashion. The lowly “meat wrappers” have since transformed themselves into a “cartel” that is more powerful than the machinery, at least in the view of Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot.

“President Ruto will succeed in crushing every cartel in the country save for two that are extremely powerful, banks and media. Both are very powerful, influential and synergise so well to protect each other’s interest. For public good, a way must be found,” the senator tweeted early this week.

Also read: Eugene Wamalwa defends media amid Senator Aaron Cheruiyot attacks

And even after Mr Cheruiyot was roundly criticized for his remarks, which were termed by the Kenya Editors Guild as an open threat to the media and a direct affront to media freedom, the unapologetic senator engaged the media a back and forth on social media, all along maintaining that the Kenyan media is indeed a cartel.

“So powerful are the cartels in our media houses, that when I called them out today @ntvkenya dedicated over 10 mins of prime time twisting on it. That’s how they buy their freedom & silence critics. Ethical media practice died in Kenya and we must fight to restore it,” the senator said in a subsequent tweet.

He went as far as lecturing the Kenya Editors Guild president Churchill Otieno on the low depths of ethical standards that the Kenyan media has plunged into.

Now, as contemptuous as his remarks may sound to those in the industry, the Senator Cheruiyot’s ‘cartel’ jibe comes nowhere close to the foul language that former Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria (now the Cabinet Secretary for Trade) spewed on the media on live TV. In a 2017 an interview on NTV, Mr Kuria used the f-word on the media while expressing his frustration for being blamed for the drama that was surrounding party primaries in his constituency.

Also read: Unapologetic Senator Cheruiyot insists Kenyan media is a ‘cartel’

All that name calling is bad enough, but Kenyan politicians have done worse things to the media. Sometime in May 2005, the then First Lady the late Mama Lucy Kibaki stormed Nation Centre to protest about a story of how she interrupted a party at the home of the then outgoing World Bank country director Makhtar Diop.

During her one-woman siege on Nation Center, the former First Lady confiscated notebooks, pens, cameras and tape recorders from journalists who were following her protests.

She also demanded the arrest of the reporter and editor who filed the story of her visit to Muthaiga Police station and reportedly recorded a statement.
Mrs Kibaki, arrived at the Nation Center just before midnight with a six-man security detail in tow and stayed on until 5am to the anguish of the unlucky journalists who found themselves in her company.

Going back further, the Moi-era was one dark period for the media and Kenyan journalists in general. Arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions and tramped up charges were the order of the day for any journalist who had the nerve to report stories that state deemed “unfavourable.” In comparison to the Moi-era clampdown on the freedom of the media, the “meat wrappers” and “cartel” slur could as well be music to the ears of Kenyan journalists.

Also read: Editors Guild slams Senator Cheruiyot for labelling media a cartel