Media groups split on CS Mucheru's debate taskforce

Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Media affiliated organisations are split on a decision by ICT and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru to appoint a task force that will oversee localised political debates in the country.

On Friday, Mucheru gazetted a 15-member committee to be chaired by Sammy Muraya and deputised by Phyllis Wakiaga to handle what is essentially a content management function.

The 15-member technical working group that comprises among others Rose Wakio, Martin Masai, Vincent Ateya, Joel Karanja, Stephen Kangongo and Tom Mboya has been tasked with assessing the ability of community and vernacular media to execute governorship, senatorship, and woman representative debates ahead of the August polls.

The team which will be in office for six months starting April 2022 is also required to jointly with local media and community organize debates and capacity building of local journalists.  

“The taskforce will regulate its own procedures, hold meetings, public forums or consultations as it shall deem necessary for the proper discharge of its mandate,” Mucheru said in a gazette notice dated April 8.

The committee, whose secretariat is the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), has three female appointees out of 15 members.

MCK Chief Executive Officer (CEO) David Omwoyo told The Standard that the CS consulted them before making the appointments and had not breached any mandate.

“What the CS has done is gazette the taskforce as a legal entity. He has allowed MCK to spend public funds to create awareness and spread information. He does not know these people,” Omwoyo said.

The CEO added that they had requested Mucheru for the gazettement and had been in copy.

William Janak, the Kenya Correspondents Association Chair also agrees that the committee is a welcome development that will help regulate the frameworks within such levels.

He however appealed for inclusivity saying: “The task force must seek broader participation of journalists and media houses so that they don’t impose their own views. Our appeal would be for those appointed to do professional work and involve journalists at those levels.”

Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Chair Eric Odour however avers that the role of planning and executing political debates should be left to the media.

“This is a direct threat to media houses. This handpicking of people amounts to interference to the independence of media,” Odour stated.

His sentiments were reiterated by Article 19’s Mugambi Kiai who notes that the CS is a State officer and should stay away from matters that involve private and independent entities.

“While he may have consulted stakeholders in the industry, he should have left that decision to the media. This may now complicate matters and pollute their impartiality,” Kiai told The Standard.

According to Article 34(2) of the Kenya Constitution, “The State shall not exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium.”