Core issues on media freedom and the independence of journalists to practice have come to the fore over the last few days following last week’s gazettement of a committee by ICT and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru.
Mr Mucheru has said he was acting on a request by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) to gazette the technical working group that will be tasked with overseeing localised political debates in the country.
“MCK came to us saying they want to set up this committee but require government support. They don’t have the powers to gazette,” the CS said, distancing himself from claims of interfering with the independence of media entities across the country to plan and execute their own content in line with inhouse guidelines.
Mucheru denied overstepping his mandate, terming the recent developments as ‘unnecessary drama.’ The CS said he did no wrong.
“We don’t need all this drama. Elections come and go…if they want, I can de-gazette the task force,” he stated.
He appealed to journalists’ bodies to resolve their issues internally.
The CS had on Friday last week gazetted a 15-member technical working group to be chaired by Journalists for Human Rights programme manager Sammy Muraya and deputised by Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chief Executive Officer Phyllis Wakiaga.
Other members are Rose Wakio, Martin Masai, Vincent Ateya, Joel Karanja, and Tom Mboya.
The committee was tasked with assessing the ability of community and vernacular media to execute governorship, senatorship and woman representative debates ahead of the August polls.
It will be in office for six months starting April 2022, which means its term will end in October yet the elections will be held on August 9.
Media professionals who spoke to The Standard last week averred 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 with the independence of media,” Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Chair Eric Odour said.
The Kenya Editors’ Guild in a statement on Monday asked the CS to overrule the decision in the interest of media freedom.
“Editorial work, especially during an election, is the primary and inviolable duty of the news media in a democratic society. State officers and State agencies have no role in this and must reject any temptation to interfere, as that would be an invitation to engage in illegalities.”