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Editors Guild term attempted removal of Mutemi from MCK Board unprocedural

NAIROBI
By Anyango Otieno | February 28th 2021

Kenya Editors Guild president Churchill Otieno at a past event. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) has asked the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) to retract its letter seeking to withdraw recognition of Tabitha Mutemi as Council Board Member.

KEG President, Churchill Otieno urged the warring parties to pull back and seek a mediated solution in order to uphold the integrity of MCK and protect it from unseemly public wrangles.

Otieno said KEG is disturbed by the continuing impasse over the attempted removal of Mutemi as the Council’s Board Member.

“Insofar as it is the body mandated by the Constitution of Kenya to oversee the Media co-regulatory framework, it is our view that any actions which impact on the integrity and independence of the Media Council by extension pose a threat to media freedom,” said Otieno.

The issue started on January 11, 2021 when MCK Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo wrote to the Chairman, Maina Muiruri informing him that Mutemi was no longer recognised as a member of the MCK Board.
Mutemi had been appointed following successful interview by a stakeholder selection panel, and duly gazetted as a member of the MCK board by the Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Joe Mucheru on October 31, 2019.

Omwoyo cited an advisory from the Office of Attorney-General dated August 18, 2020, to the effect that a person holding a public service appointment is prohibited from holding another job in the public office.

The advisory followed a June 16, 2020 request from the Principal Secretary for ICT on whether Mutemi, an employee of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, could also serve on the MCK board.

Following the advisory from the Office of the Attorney General, the PS in September 26, 2021, wrote to the Media Council directing that Mutemi could not sit on the Council.

“This was the basis on which the CEO subsequently wrote informing the Chairman that the Secretariat no longer ‘recognized’ Ms Mutemi as a member of the Council,” said Otieno.

He said all these developments are deeply disturbing as they ignore due process, and in particular the laid down mechanism for appointment and removal of MCK Council members.

“This mechanism by itself underpins independence of the MCK, and by extension independence of the Media,” he said.

He added that the Media Council Act specifically provided for independent selection panels for the Council and the Media Complaints Commission in order to safeguard media freedom by insulating the appointments process from external pressure and influence.

It is instructive that Mutemi, according to KEG, navigated the application, short-listing, interviews and appointment process without her status as IEBC employee being found to be an impediment by the selection panel and the appointing authority.

In fact, her employment status was canvassed in the selection panel and she was allowed to proceed.

“If it is was determined later that there was an error or oversight leading to her appointment, the proper course of action would be for any entity desiring rectification of the supposed error to initiate the process which would lead to revoking the appointment through the requisite notice in the Kenya Gazette, in strict conformity to the law and in a manner that gives primacy to media freedom,” Otieno said.

He noted that neither the CEO nor the Chairman has any legal authority to withhold or withdraw recognition of a legally appointed Council Member.

According to Otieno, neither does the CS, as the formal appointing authority, have powers to unilaterally remove any board member without a rigorous process to ensure such protection of media freedom.

Otieno said an advisory from the AG that a Council member is ineligible to serve cannot be acted upon until the laid-down mechanisms for removal have been followed.

Otieno said the Guild is aware that Mutemi has challenged the purported removal.

“She has threatened to sue and has also written to the Speaker of the National Assembly and the relevant Departmental Committee in light of the National Assembly’s statutory role in the removal of a Council member who enjoys the security of tenure.”

He added that after mediation, the CEO, the CS or any other entity seeking to pursue the matter of Ms Mutemi’s eligibility to serve on the MCK Council will be at liberty to do so through the laid-down procedures.

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