Uhuru unveils new media unit, assures of press freedom

President Uhuru Kenyatta with members of the 4th Estate after hosting the Editors' Guild Media breakfast at State House, Nairobi.

What you need to know:

  • Former Common-wealth media chief Manoah Esipisu to head revamped unit
  • Head of State pledges to address secrecy syndrome in government as Matiang’i reaches out to journalists

President Kenyatta on Friday overhauled how government communicates and interacts with Kenyans by establishing the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit.

He, at the same time, assured journalists of media freedom in their watchdog role as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The new communications unit will replace the Presidential Press Service that was largely tasked with covering the Head of State.

It will be charged with covering the President and the First Lady, research on policy, communication of government policy, digitisation of government communications and branding State events and functions.

In a major departure from tradition, the new unit will be headed by a Secretary of Communications, who will double up as State House Spokesman.

Mr Manoah Esipisu has been appointed the first holder of the new office. Mr Esipisu takes over from Mr Isaiya Kabira, who has been appointed Kenya’s Ambassador to Australia.

Mr Esipisu has had a distinguished career as a journalist and diplomat and until his appointment, he was a special assistant to the president of African Development Bank.

Five directors will guide the vision and implementation of the new outfit.

Mr Eric Ng’eno, a lawyer and writer, will be the Director Speech writing and Research. Mr Edward Irungu formerly of the PPS, will head the Press department, which will be transformed into a modern presidential newsroom.

Other director are Mr Munyori Buku (External Communications and Media), Mr James Kinyua (Events and Branding) and Mr Dennis Itumbi who will be in charge of Digital, New Media and Diaspora affairs.

In a meeting with the Editors Guild at State House Nairobi, President Kenyatta said his government would consider the media as a “partner” in helping deliver its campaign manifesto.

“We are not interested in government control and propaganda. Our commitment is to better ensure how the media can more effectively support our democracy,” he said. “What we want is openness and transparency that offers benefits to Kenyans.”

The editors were at State House to exchange views with Mr Kenyatta on how the government and the media should interact.

And while the President said the relationship would “not be adversarial”, editors already had a bone to pick over the contents of Media Bill 2013.

The news managers said the removal of Media Council of Kenya Complaints Commission, granting powers to Information Secretary over the Council’s membership and the removal of media accreditation would jeopardise media freedom.

However, Information Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the media would be invited to give their views on the draft law before it is passed.

“It is not our policy to muzzle the press. This government is committed to press freedom. It is our way of life.”

Chairman of the Guild Macharia Gaitho also lamented that there was no clear policy on who should be responding to inquiries from journalists and that most government officials were reluctant to give information even if it is not sensitive.

In response, Mr Kenyatta said the government would make a clear public communications policy in all ministries.