How ‘Nation’ reported the news of the Chebukati-Cherera showdown

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati and vice-chair Juliana Cherera.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati (left) and Vice Chairperson Juliana Cherera at the Bomas of Kenya on August 22, 2022.


Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The showdown could have precipitated a constitutional crisis and possible violence.
  • But it also had its light moment as Ms Cherera became the butt of jokes on social media on account of her ability in maths.
  • Yet readers wanted more information about the commissioners involved in the saga, which is natural for stories of such consuming interest.



One of the gripping episodes in the presidential vote-counting saga that captured the imagination of the public was the showdown between IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and his vice-chairperson Juliana Cherera.

The showdown could have precipitated a constitutional crisis and possible violence.

But it also had its light moment as Ms Cherera became the butt of jokes on social media on account of her ability in maths.

Yet readers wanted more information about the commissioners involved in the saga, which is natural for stories of such consuming interest.

Mr Chebukati is a household name, having been appointed as the chairman of the IEBC in January 2017 by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He took the country through the 2017 presidential election which was overturned by the Supreme Court and the re-run that was ordered.

Regardless, the Nation published background information about him in the story “Hero or villain? Wafula Chebukati divides opinion, two disputed presidential polls later” by Sam Kiplagat (Daily Nation, August 22, 2022). This gave the story about the vote-counting saga more depth.

It’s important, though, to avoid being judgemental in such reporting. Objective information is critical to understanding the vote-counting saga.

That is why it would have been better for Collins Omulo, for example, to avoid saying in his report that Ms Cherera “hang her boss, Mr Wafula Chebukati, out to dry”, that she caught Mr Chebukati “flat-footed.. not knowing what to do”, that she “pulled a fast one on him”. (“Wafula Chebukati, Juliana Cherera clash in IEBC split”—Daily Nation, August 23, 2022). Winnie Atieno copied some of those sentiments in a story published the following day (“Raila: Only Cherera should manage upcoming elections”—Daily Nation, August 24, 2022). 

More about objective reporting later. 

As for Ms Cherera, the Nation offered precious little background information.

This is despite the fact that Ms Cherera is not well known outside Mombasa County government circles.

So, readers yearned for more information about her and the other three dissenting commissioners—Justus Nyang’aya, Irene Masit and Francis Wanderi—who joined her to accuse Chebukati of being “opaque”, “dictatorial” and a “one-man show”.

It would have taken little effort to provide background information on the four commissioners.

They were appointed in September last year and background information about them is available from the videotaped interviews for the IEBC commissioners held in July 2021.

The Nation also has some background information in its archives on Ms Cherera, published when she was elected vice-chairperson (“Juliana Cherera named IEBC vice-chair” by Ibrahim Oruko—Daily Nation, September 16, 2021).

This could have been republished to bring readers up to speed on the quartet’s background.

The Nation left it to a political commentator Kibisu Kabatesi to fill the void. And he did not mince his words in his portrayal of Ms Cherera and her fellow commissioners in his well-crafted opinion piece, “The ‘Opaque 4’ at IEBC could have thrown our country into anarchy” (Daily Nation, August 18, 2022).

Mr Kabatesi says, among other things, that any conspiracy theorist would argue that it isn’t by accident that the foursome was appointed by President Kenyatta after “an inordinate delay” to fill the vacancies.

“That they would gang up against the older colleagues is a tell-tale pointer to the involvement of external forces in their attempted disruption of the IEBC result tally.”

He goes on to say that Ms Cherera and Mr Nyang’aya “have close links to two governors and Mr Wanderi is linked to a Jubilee outgoing MP from Nyeri”. 

Readers would have been served better if the Nation came up with more objective and factual background information on the four commissioners instead of relying solely on an external commentator.

As we say in journalism, “Comment is free but facts are sacred.”

The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: [email protected] Call or text 0721989264

***

‘Nation” explained why tallying stalled

I refer to “Coverage of presidential campaign, opinion polls and tallying of ballots” (Daily Nation, August 19, 2022). 

The NMG Public Editor faulted the media houses for failing to keep pace with tallying and to apologise.

However, NMG Editor-in-Chief Mutuma Mathiu, in the article “Hold tight, professionals in control” that appeared in his Friday column (Daily Nation, August 12, 2022) did, in a blow-by-blow manner, write that the media houses had underestimated the logistics involved. 

So, NMG issued a satisfactory explanation.

— Githuku Mungai

* * *

Presidential debates no debate at all

I listened to the presidential debate for half the time and had to give up because it didn’t sound like a debate at all. It was just like an interview. 

So when I read your article “The presidential debate, audience responses, and ‘gotcha journalism’” (Daily Nation, July 29, 2022), I was quite happy that you pointed out all the wrong things that were done, or not done, in the debate. 

I completely agree with your article and, hopefully, we shall see all the candidates on one stage, arguing and stating their measures to be taken in future in case they become President. 

All the best to whoever occupies the State House. We just hope for a peaceful transition.

— Mrs Sucheta Barad

* * *

‘Lucky escape’ article wasted readers’ time

I refer to the article “‘How I escaped a murder-suicide attempt by my estranged husband’” (Nation.Africa, August 24, 2022). The heading is untidy as, surely, the woman could only have escaped the murder, not suicide! 

Also, as a reader, I assumed—though it seemed unlikely so soon after such a traumatising experience—that the woman had given a bit more insight into what led to the tragedy.

But no new information was provided. The writer simply repeated the few facts that had been given when the story broke, only adding obvious “details” about phone calls and seatbelts not being worn.

One would be forgiven for thinking the interview never happened; that the writer only managed to get hold of a photo of the woman, her head wrapped in bandages, and went ahead to do the rest.

Nation should not waste readers’ time on such articles.

— Njeri Aseneka
 

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