Uproar over Raila's call for boycott of the Star

The media fraternity warns that the move could claw back freedom of the press.

In Summary
  • The Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Editors Guild, Media Council of Kenya and civil society termed Raila's calls as an anti-climax of his historical credits.
  • There are concerns that Raila's declaration might result into arbitrary attacks on journalists going about their trade.
Azimio leader Raila Odinga in at Jaramogi Oginda Odinga Foundation in Nairobi on March 9,2023
Azimio leader Raila Odinga in at Jaramogi Oginda Odinga Foundation in Nairobi on March 9,2023

The media fraternity on Tuesday condemned Azimio leader Raila Odinga's call for mass boycott of the Star newspaper amid fears the attack could endanger lives of journalists.

The Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Editors Guild, civil society, and Media Council of Kenya termed Raila's calls as an anti-climax of his historical credits.

The ODM chief on Tuesday launched an aggressive attack on the freedom of the press after he called on his supporters to boycott one of the country's most popular newspapers.

Raila, the country's veteran opposition leader and one of the foremost defenders of free media, accused the newspaper, one of Radio Africa Group's products, of being biased towards Azimio.

This is despite the Star remaining independent, impartial and objective on its coverage of both sides of the political divide in the run up to and after last year's general election.

There are concerns that Raila's declaration might result into arbitrary attacks on journalists going about their trade.

MCK said it takes Raila's statements against the Star as part of efforts to manipulate public opinion and limit freedom of the press, which are both fundamental components of a healthy democracy.

“ Such attacks undermine the freedom of the press and are attempts to undermine the role of the press in freely informing the electorates based on the editorial judgments," MCK chief executive David Omwoyo said. 

"Freedom of the press is a essential right that allows journalists to report on events, issues and people without fear of censorship or repression.” 

The regulator warned that when political leaders ask people to boycott a national newspaper, they are essentially trying to undermine media freedom and to control the narrative in their favour.

MCK raised the red flag that Raila's utterances could put journalists who work at the Star newspaper at risk as they may be attacked by supporters of the political coalition.

“Further, and given the current economic hardships being faced by the media, boycotting a national newspaper could have serious economic consequences for the newspaper and its employees, potentially leading to job losses and financial instability,” the council said.

MCK challenged any political formation, leader or member of the public aggrieved by the media to report any complaints to the Media Complaints Commission, which is legally mandated to mediate on the same.

KUJ secretary general Eric Oduor termed Raila's calls as unfortunate, especially coming from a leader who understands the importance of a free and independent press in promoting good governance and transparency.

Raila has been associated with the fight for freedom of the press which has been an integral partner in his push for good governance, expansion of the country's democratic space and protection of fundamental rights.

“The boycott call and derogatory remarks do not only puncture independence of the media, but put at risk the lives of journalists working with the Star newspaper who will soon become victims of assault by overzealous Azimio supporters all over the country,” Oduor said.

The union called upon Raila and the Azimio La Umoja fraternity to respect the freedom of the media and use appropriate channels to file complaints if actions of journalists violate the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya.

“Odinga as a leader must desist from making statement that will set up men and women who are working under a very difficult environment to check the government and all leaders holding various positions in the country for the common good of the Kenyan society,” Oduor said.

Raila on Tuesday unveiled his second phase of the resistance against President William Ruto's administration, revealing at least three companies whose products he asked his supporters to boycott.

Besides Radio Africa, also called for the boycott of mobile services provider Safaricom and the Kenya Commercial Bank, saying the companies are allegedly beneficiaries of the Kenya Kwanza administration.

“These corporates have become the enemies of the people and are benefiting from the blood and tears of Kenyans,” the ODM leader said. 

In 2017, Raila who was then disputing then President Uhuru Kenyatta's victory, called on his Nasa supporters to boycott major brands in the country, including the Nation, Safaricom, Bidco and Brookeside.

The civil society, led by the Suba Churchill, the executive director of the Kenya National Civil Society Centre, warned that the Azimio leader's remarks are tantamount to a breach of the fundamental freedoms of the media.

"The constitution has established mechanisms through which those who are aggrieved by the media actions should channel their grievances. It is rather harsh for Raila to call for the boycott of the Star newspaper or any other media,” Churchill said.

Chapter 34 of the Constitution guarantees freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media and limits state actors from exercising control or interfering with its work.

The law provides that the state shall not interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium.

It shall also not penalise any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.

The law limits non-state actors from interfering with media freedom or trying to control a narrative through various forms of infringements and abuses.

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