The state has distanced itself from allegations of interference in editorial work during a general election by some journalist’s governing bodies.
This came hours after the Kenya Editors’ Guild wrote to the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) ministry opposing its move to appoint a task force to oversee localised political debates.
The Editor’s Guild also termed the move as ‘State interference in editorial work during a general election’ and asked the CS to rescind the decision in the interest of media freedom.
Speaking in Diani, Kwale County during the Connected Kenya Summit, ICT CS Joe Mucheru said the state was not planning to be involved in the appointment of moderators of the localised debates.
He stated that the government’s work was to oversee and approve decisions made by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).
“The Media Council and all these media affiliated organisations came to me and said ‘we have appointed these people to the taskforce’. Who am I to say no? I could not, because I know they would write again and say ‘the minister has refused’’ Mucheru told journalists.
The CS added that the complaints by media owners and practitioners were uncalled for.
On Friday, April 8, Mucheru gazetted a 15-member committee to handle what is essentially a content management function.
The task force is to be chaired by Sammy Muraya deputised by Phyllis Wakiaga.
The 15-member technical working group comprises among others, Rose Wakio, Martin Masai, Vincent Ateya, Joel Karanja, Stephen Kangongo and Tom Mboya.
It has been tasked with assessing the ability of community and vernacular media to execute governorship, senatorial, 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 to 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.
Days later, KEG said the appointment ‘came as a surprise to them’.
“The involvement of the Cabinet Secretary on issues of the news media through the Gazette Notice amounts to control and interference with the Independence of the Media. This explicitly violates Article 34(2),” wrote Churchill Otieno, KEG president.
In its resolutions, the Guild faulted the CS for usurping his powers, noting that the Gazette Notice putting in place the Technical Working Group violates the Constitution, the Media Council Act and the Elections Act.
“The stated problem that the CS is seeking to address does not require the state to appoint anybody. It is a matter squarely for practitioners. The CS does not have the power to direct media houses on how to cover elections, including debates,” said Otieno.
The 2022 presidential debate will be held in July, one month before the elections. The Media Owner’s Association launched a joint venture with the Kenya Editors Guild and the Media Council of Kenya to organise the country’s third presidential debate.
Additional Reporting by Brian George