Media Council protests as CoG moves to block NMG adverts

The Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya at a past press briefing in August 2020. CoG has blocked advertisements to a media house over a graft story. [File, Standard]

A decision by governors to stop advertising with the Nation Media Group over a graft report has drawn sharp criticism from the media regulator.

The Council of Governors on Wednesday said it had resolved to "immediately cease engaging with NMG merchandise" after the media house published a story it found unfavourable.

The report – headlined 'Eight governors on graft hit list' – highlighted how the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission was probing abuse of office and corruption allegations against various county chiefs.

CoG chair Wycliffe Oparanya termed the piece a "smear campaign" that portrayed them as corrupt, inept and unable to run their counties.

"The extra ordinary council of governors meeting held on September 8 resolved that henceforth, no county government shall advertise with the Nation Media Group merchandise until the situation is rectified," Oparanya said in a letter to counties.

"Any other media house that will carry salacious stories about governors will face similar treatment," he threatened.

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has censured the CoG decision saying it meant to "intimidate and bully" and was a direct affront on the freedom and independence of the media.

The council's CEO David Omwoyo cautioned that public money should never be used as a tool of control and manipulation.

"This supposed sanction by the governors calls into question the very process and rationale for financial decision-making at the county-level," said Mr Omwoyo.

He went on: "[The] CoG's use of the word 'rectified' is not only ill-advised, but calculated to give the impression that journalists and media enterprises are subject to rectifying actions outside the laid down procedures for the management of complaints against the media."

MCK now wants the governors to rescind the decision and instead lodge a complaint with the regulator if it felt aggrieved by the coverage.

"Any complaint against any journalist or media enterprise is to be channelled to the Media Complaints Commission operating under the auspices of the Media Council of Kenya for determination and appropriate action," said Mr Omwoyo.

"Governors need to be cognizant of the fact that they are accountable to the public for the use of funds in their respective counties, and the public through the media have every right to question, hold them to account and even to hold divergent views than those propagated by their communications machinery."

Mr Omwoyo added that CoG will be held responsible for any attacks on journalists as its decision exposed media workers to "potential intimidation, harassment and denial of access to important county offices and functions."

"This is simply a continuation of the blatant disregard for media freedom and access to information demonstrated by both county executives and assemblies," noted Mr Omwoyo.  

The media owners' association has also condemned the "unilateral and hurried" move by CoG, noting it had the potential of setting a bad precedent in the engagements between public institutions and the media.

The media owners said they were committed to responsible journalism and asked CoG to use the available complaints handling mechanisms to resolve any grievances it may have about media content.

"The attempt by CoG to use commercial leverage to influence editorial outcomes is therefore not only unacceptable but also ill-advised in a constitutional dispensation that encourages freedom of media and transparency in public institutions," said the association's chair Wachira Waruru.