Wednesday, April 18, 2007


STANDARD GROUP COMMENT:Stop this vendetta against us

The great tragedy of our day is that the lowest form of propaganda and blackmail — lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth and the reality of most citizens’ lives — has overridden the golden credo that Government exists to do no harm and for the good of all.

This is obviously the case in Kenya today when a section of Government withdraws advertising from the Standard Group Limited on the spurious grounds that the media house is adversarial to it. The harm intended is financial incapacitation — a scheme that is doomed to fail.

This is obviously the case when the same elements in Government detain the top management of the same company for a story it ran from verifiable sources instead of investigating the serious allegations contained in the story.

This is obviously the case when State resources are marshalled to intimidate a media house whose only crime is executing its legitimate mandate in the public interest when such resources could make a huge difference in the Mt Elgon region, currently experiencing fatal clashes between our citizenry.

This is obviously the case when those who strive to defend the honour of our nation against the sacrilegious defilement by two miscreants — just two of them — are given a bad name and handed the punishment due to the miscreants.

This is obviously the case when the security situation in the country has degenerated to alarming levels and all the minister in charge can do is read threatening and intimidating statements against a media house that is known to harbour no criminal.

What are the issues here? The issues simply are that the Standard Group Ltd (SGL) has been under consistent attack from a section of Government — repeat a section of Government — for the better part of two years when the country is facing greater challenges.

Not only have our employees been physically assaulted, we have been raided, our property destroyed, ours editors illegally held, our transmission interrupted, our press disabled, our newspapers burnt, our directors harassed and now advertising discontinued.

Why all this? Because of two foreign miscreants without as much as fleeting respect for our country, our leadership or our culture.

Lest we forget, let us refresh our memory. The media exists to report accurately and, yes, responsibly on matters of public interest. The Artur saga is a matter of great public interest. SGL did not create the Artur brothers. SGL did not invite them to Kenya. SGL did not dictate who their handlers were. SGL did not even deport them, if they were indeed deported. The Government knows who did all this.

Our coverage of this issue has been consistent with that of any responsible corporate citizen, particularly a media house. In fact, the Standard considered claims that the Arturs were here and were planning grievous harm frivolous until we were raided by, among others, people witnesses say were of Caucasian origin.

SGL was the first to come to Internal Security Minister Mr John Michuki’s defence when Artur Margaryan ordered him to shut up. Whereas the usually courageous and forthright minister kept quiet to the consternation of many, we stepped forward to defend the honour of our leadership. We were the first to call for the duo’s deportation. We were the first to call for an inquiry into their activities. We were the first to wonder aloud how the duo could threaten to unleash dogs on our Police Commissioner. We have behaved like any proud and responsible corporate citizen should.

Question: Is the love for this great nation restricted to words without actions? Was SGL being irresponsible or anti-Government by defending the honour of the same Government? Who should be under interrogation here, us who have kept Kenyans informed or those who want to muzzle us?

Therefore, and justifiably so, we take great exception to the renewed harassment and intimidation from a section of Government.

Yesterday, an e-mail instruction made available to us clearly states that all Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) adverts booked in our newspaper and television station were to be cancelled immediately and redirected to other media houses.

Others that have been given similar directives by the Government and immediately acted upon include Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and parastatals in the ministries of Agriculture, Education and Health.

The question that must be asked is: Is there an attempt to peg advertising to favourable media coverage? What is this supposed to tell those citizens — taxpaying and otherwise — whose only source of information is The Standard and KTN? That they don’t matter or that for their Government to communicate with them, they must consume media of the Government’s choice?

Of course we are alive to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, a former President of the United States of America, who once said: "The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the Press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe…

"The most effectual engines for (pacifying a nation) are the public (news)papers… (A despotic) government always (keeps) a kind of standing army of news writers who, without any regard to truth or to what should be like truth, (invent) and put into the papers whatever might serve the ministers. This suffices with the mass of the people who have no means of distinguishing the false from the true paragraphs of a newspaper."

Whether this holds true in Kenya’s situation despite highly positive opinion polls is for every individual Kenyan to judge.

Anyhow, we wish to reiterate our position: We are an independent media house that publishes content we believe serves compelling public interest and not one that panders to individual egos.

In executing that mandate, we have the resolve of a river that must reach its destination and for this our journalists and managers are well-prepared. We are not enemies of Government and we believe with its intelligence networks, the Government can ascertain that easily.

On Monday, we published a story that led to this state of affairs. We stand by that story and here below repeat some of the questions we raised which remain unanswered:

• Why did a layman, a former policeman named Shedrach Kiruki, and not a legal expert head the commission of inquiry into the activities of the Arturs?

• Why were certain parties, such as SGL, denied the opportunity to testify at the inquiry? After all, the Arturs allegedly led the squad that raided the Group on March 2 last year — a raid captured on CCTV, and which Michuki has termed a Government operation.

• Why was a lawyer who sought to represent the Arturs at the commission not allowed to have his day on the stand?

• The commission’s report, the Government said, would not be made public because it touches on sensitive matters of security. Why is the minister in charge of that security still in office?

• Is there any truth in claims by Mr Raila Odinga, the Lang’ata MP, that these men were mercenaries? Whose dogs of war were they?

• The Arturs drove around in cars bearing Government registration plates. If the plates were faked, why were they not arrested and arraigned? If they were real, how did they get them and for what missions?

• The Arturs had security passes that gave them access to any part of any of Kenya’s airports at any time. Only the very apex of the Kenya Airports Authority pyramid can issue such passes. But at whose behest and for what reason?

• Immigration Minister Gedion Konchellah defended the Arturs saying they were investors. In what sector of the national economy were they interested?

• On whose advice was Konchellah and Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua acting when they told Kenyans that the Arturs were investors on H class visas and work permits? On whose authority were they issuing such statements on people who would later be declared persona non grata?

• On whose advice was Konchellah acting when he authorised the issuance of passports to the two?

• It is on record that it was the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) that vetted and cleared the two men to get Kenyan passports! Is this true and at whose behest and for what purpose?

• Did Michuki know that the Arturs had documents making them high-ranking police officers — Deputy Commissioners to be precise? Did the Arturs in that capacity or otherwise lead the assault on SGL on March 2, last year? Did Michuki know that Margaryan was one of his officers? Did he know that the man was tasked with training some of the members of his elite squads? Are Kenyans not damned if he did not know? Are they not damned if he knew?

• It should be recalled that the commission of inquiry heard witnesses recount how the Arturs were helped to stage-manage an arrival at JKIA and how they were allowed to use the VIP Lounge and insult the whole country’s poverty. If this is not a serious enough indictment on those who manage our security and airports, what is? Why are those people who presided over this national disgrace still in office?

Instead of our Internal Security minister sitting on his official chair to put up a show and threaten the media, he should provide answers to these questions or simply have the honour to resign. And Mr Michuki this is not personal vendetta. If you want evidence, consider that the First Lady, Mrs Lucy Kibaki, has found time to visit and commiserate with the victims of Mt Elgon clashes. You have not. Is this personal vendetta?

For his own good reasons, the President has chosen to keep Michuki as his minister in charge of Internal Security. But as a media house, we wish to tell our President that the vast majority of Kenyans have no confidence in this minister who might have been a success in the Transport portfolio but has been an unmitigated failure in Internal Security. Your Excellency, Vox Populi, Vox Dei.

For their solidarity and support, we thank our readers and viewers, the international community, the local media who have rightly realised that this is not a war against the Standard but a war against the entire media, our political leaders both from the Government and Opposition who have rallied to our defence, religious organisations and advertisers who have stood by us despite all.

They have all done well for as Martin Luther King, Jr said: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

On this we stand.



Maua said...

Hey Gerald, there is an interesting discussion on kenyaImagine on Kenya's Freedom of the Press. Amazing that the government would behave this way. But not surprising. Meet you there!

Klara said...

It's so sad 2 see this happennin! This a government that pledged 2 support Freedom Of Press!!
This will surely bring it down!!