Attorney General Justin Muturi went beyond his mandate with his recent advisory that sought to bar employees of media houses and members of journalism associations from sitting in the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) board, the Kenya Correspondents Association has said.
In a protest letter to ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owallo, the Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) chairman William Oloo-Janak says Mr Muturi’s advisory is not anchored in any known law and is therefore inconsequential.
Mr Janak, who is a member of the selection panel recruiting the McK board members says the selection panel did not ask the AG for any advise on qualification of employees of media houses and members of journalism associations to sit in the Mck board – terming the AG’s wading into the matter ill-motivated and in bad faith.
He has accused the selection panel’s secretary Chris Maina and MCK representative in the secretariat Eric Ngaira of hijacking deliberations of the panel in an attempt to bar journalists from sitting in the industry regulator’s board.
Mr Janak says in his letter to Mr Owalo that Mr Maina and Mr Ngaira have in past meetings of the selection panel claimed that allowing journalists to sit in the board would present a conflict of interest.
The two have, however, failed to table any evidence of conflict of interest in past board compositions that also had journalists, the letter says. “Past boards have had journalists and failure to table evidence of how their presence compromised the MCK’s independence or operations means the attempt has no legal or moral legs to stand on.”
Besides, Mr Janak argues, barring journalists from the board after the vacancy advertisement and shortlisting of candidates amounts to discrimination based on illegal rule changes midway through the selection process.
“The Media Council Act is clear in its provisions… at Section 7 (composition of council), Section 3,4 and 8 of the Act. Nowhere in these sections or any other part of the Act is there a provision that excludes journalists, employees of the media houses or members of media associations and their leaders from applying for and being recruited as members of the MCK board,” Mr Janak says.
Mr Janak’s letter is the latest in a string of battles that have characterized recruitment of MCK board members – the team charged with safeguarding the media industry from government, political and commercial control as established in the constitution and in law.
Kenya’s 210 Constitution provides for parliament to enact a law establishing a regulatory body to set media standards, regulate and monitor compliance with the same standards.
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“Parliament shall enact legislation that provides for the establishment of a body, which shall be independent of control by government, political or commercial interests,” the constitution says in Article 34 (5) adding that the said body shall reflect the interests of all sections of the society.
The latest battle for the soul of MCK started two weeks ago when the selection panel resolved to seek an advisory opinion from the Attorney General on whether public officers should be allowed to sit on the MCK Board, and Mr Maina insisted that the government’s chief legal advisor also be asked to settle the issue of eligibility of journalists to serve in the board.
“As a panelist representing the Kenya Correspondents Association, I recorded my objection (which should be in the minutes) to the admissibility and application of the legal opinion from the A-G which in my considered judgment, overturns the Media Council Act and introduces other criteria not provided for in the Act and which are not part of what was published in the Kenya Gazette notice and the newspapers,” Mr Janak says in his letter to Mr Owalo.
The KCA chairman says he has reason “to believe that this advisory was solicited in bad faith and certain provisions made with mischievous and ulterior motives designed to lock out certain applicants from this process” adding that the advisory cannot be implemented as an afterthought, when the process was already in motion and all the candidates were advised through the newspapers and gazette notice of what the criteria were.”
Some individuals who had been interviewed went on to mingle with candidates yet to face the panel, something that the selectors expressed concern about.
Mr Janak holds that other professional bodies have active practitioners sitting in their boards, and that the MCK should be no different.