DEPUTY Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta cannot escape public scrutiny and criticism, especially during election campaigns, Star MD William Pike said yesterday.
Appearing before the Media Council's Complaint Commission in a case filed by Uhuru, Pike said Uhuru should accept that he is a public figure and a private citizen. He said the public has a legitimate right to speculate on what might might happen under his presidency.
"It would be a funny country if the media were not allowed to publish negative criticism of politicians," said Pike. He quoted a High Court ruling where the deputy PM lost a bid to expunge his name from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights report. The court ruled that at times private rights must give way to the public interest.
Uhuru has reported the Star to the Complaints Commission for publishing an opinion column by columnist Jerry Okungu in February. Okungu said the election of a presidential candidate charged with crimes against humanity would remind the world of the election of Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1933.
Okungu also predicted that the election of Uhuru with William Ruto as deputy president would take Kenya back to the bad old days of Kanu.
"Newspapers are a mix of business and public service. Opinion columns afford a public forum for the public to debate on various candidates. By a dialectical process of thesis and antithesis, the public can arrive at a consensus on the best way forward for the country," Pike told the commission.
Pike was first cross examined by Star lawyer Nelson Havi and later by Uhuru's lawyer Desterio Oyatsi. He said Uhuru was afforded a right of reply on February 15 through an opinion by Onyango Oloo and submitted by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Oloo's reply criticized Prime Minister Raila Odinga for having many relatives in office, unlike Uhuru and Ruto.
Pike said opinion columns published in the Star are the opinions of the individual columnists. He said the Star does not censor columnists although it accepts legal responsibility for whatever is published in the paper.
He said the piece by Okungu was fair comment. It may have "severely criticized" Uhuru but did not "vilify him in a manner likely to cause hatred."
"We do not censor columnists. We check for libel, hate speech and the like. If people are aggrieved by a column, we offer a right of reply which we did in this case," Pike said. Oyatsi however insisted that Article 23 of the constitution places a general responsibility for all content on editors. Pike did not object.