The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has clarified that they drew up a 15-member task force that is expected to oversee the localised political debates ahead of the August 9 General Election.
This even as a section of media stakeholders accused ICT and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru of interfering with the independence of the media after he gazetted the committee on Friday, April 8.
The technical working group is tasked with assessing the ability of community and vernacular media to execute governorship, senatorial, and woman representative debates ahead of the August polls.
The committee will be chaired by Journalists for Human Rights programme manager Sammy Muraya and deputised by Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chief Executive Officer Phyllis Wakiaga.
Mucheru’s move received sharp criticism from the Editors’ Guild and Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) which termed it as “government interference” with editorial decisions of the media.
“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,” The Kenya Editors’ Guild said in a statement last Monday.
KUJ termed CS’s move as a direct threat to the independence of the media. “This handpicking of people amounts to interference with the independence of the media,” said the chairman Erick Oduor.
But MCK on Thursday, April, 14 defended Mucheru, saying that the CS did not come up with the list, explaining that the CS was only requested to gazette the names presented to him by the media regulators.
“The (Media) Council wrote to the Cabinet Secretary (ICT) on March 7, 22, forwarding names from a cross-section of the media landscape and requesting for gazettement of the same,” read a statement by MCK CEO, David Omwoyo.
Omwoyo added: “The Cabinet Secretary did not alter the list forwarded to his office.”
In an earlier interview, CS Mucheru defended himself saying that his role was only gazetting the list of persons presented to him by MCK.
Meanwhile, MCK said that preparations for the debates are at an advanced stage, adding that MCK will undertake several activities to support the media sector through various stakeholders and approaches including support to the Presidential and Running Mates debates.
Additionally, MCK warned that over 200 local media outlets, including radio, television and websites will be excluded from the presidential debate.
“It is worth noting that more than 200 radios and television stations and digital media outlets though legally recognised by MCK are not members of the Editors Guild or the Media Owners Association and are therefore not part of the national debates,” added MCK.
The media regulator says that they only recognize 28 media associations, support groups and societies in addition to 6,500 accredited journalists and more than 550 recognised media houses.