Press blackout for Kenyan football

Football Kenya Federation President Nick Mwendwa addresses a press conference at Safari Park Hotel on November 26, 2020 during the unveiling of StarTimes as official broadcast sponsors of FKF Premier League.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • On Saturday night, AIPS President Gianni Merlo said the global sports writers’ organisation will defend the independence of journalists, saying this was particularly important during this period of Covid-19
  • The Sports Journalists Association of Kenya (SJAK) has supported the blackout on the league and written to the Media Council of Kenya seeking to have the federation’s decision against journalists addressed
  • Victor Bwire, the Media Council of Kenya’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, confirmed having received SJAK’s protest letter, saying the council will meet and issue an official comment

The International Sports Press Association (AIPS) has criticised the decision by Football Kenya Federation (FKF) to lock selected journalists out of Saturday’s top league match between champions Gor Mahia and Ulinzi Stars at the Nyayo National Stadium.

Some leading media houses have subsequently suspended coverage of FKF leagues in protest of the federation’s move that saw several journalists ejected from the match venue by policemen under instruction from the federation.

On Saturday night, AIPS President Gianni Merlo said the global sports writers’ organisation will defend the independence of journalists, saying this was particularly important during this period of Covid-19 in which journalists are essential in disbursing information from events closed to spectators.

“We have to fight against these otherwise such officials will use the same system to offer accreditation only to persona grata, or journalists that they like and lock out those critical to these officials,” Merlo told Nation Sport from his base in Milan.

“It is necessary to fight for our rights because if we accept the officials’ logic, then they will continue to harass journalists. We have to take every action to defend our profession,” the former long-serving editor at leading Italian sports daily, Gazzetta dello Sport, added.

The Sports Journalists Association of Kenya (SJAK) has supported the blackout on the league and written to the Media Council of Kenya seeking to have the federation’s decision against journalists addressed.

Ironically, Saturday’s incident at the Nyayo National Stadium happened as Kenya celebrated its 57th Independence Day with President Uhuru Kenyatta having led the nation in marking the day earlier on at the same venue.

Media blackout

In a letter to the Media Council of Kenya last night, SJAK Secretary General Mike Okinyi insists that the independence of the media must be upheld at all times.

“The Sports Journalists Association of Kenya is in receipt of complaints from journalists on the conduct of Football Kenya Federation,” the letter says.

“The SJAK executive had an emergency meeting and resolved to seek intervention from the Media Council of Kenya. For the second week now, journalists from various media houses have been barred from covering the league.

“The worst case was on Saturday, 12th December, where a selected few were allowed at the Nyayo National Stadium to cover the match between Gor Mahia and Ulinzi Stars.

“After consulting the editors as well, SJAK’s position is that the media council should stand with the editors in giving a blackout to the league until this matter is resolved. The independence of the media must be upheld at all times. We would like to know what rules are being applied by FKF in locking out journalists,” SJAK protested.

Victor Bwire, the Media Council of Kenya’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, confirmed having received SJAK’s protest letter, saying the council will meet and issue an official comment.

FKF President Nick Mwendwa and the federation’s head of communications Kenn Okaka were at pains to explain that the journalists were locked out owing to a contractual dispute between the federation, the home team Gor Mahia and league sponsors StarTimes that necessitated that the match be closed to a section of the media.

StarTimes said they were aware of Saturday’s incident and the unfolding media blackout which blots their much trumpeted partnership with FKF.

A statement from the pay television network said the freedom of media needs to be upheld.

“We are in receipt of various complaints from the media in regards to the way they were handled during today's match at Nyayo National Stadium,” StarTimes’ Communications manager Alex Mwaura said in a statement.

“We regret any action deliberate or otherwise to manage the media selectively, freedom of the media needs to be upheld, they are an integral part of the growth of Kenyan football and strategic partners like ourselves who have come on board for the good of the game.

“Any action that negates this is therefore unacceptable. We are in touch with the federation on this issue and are exploring immediate solutions to address the same,” Mwaura’s statement concluded.

'Excellent opportunity'

Speaking to Nation Sport, Merlo said the situation is not peculiar to Kenya, citing an example recently when Italian giants Juventus denied journalists from the Gazzetta dello Sport access to their matches because of a factual locker room story published by the daily and seen as negative by Juve.

He also noted that Covid-19 had given sports officials “an excellent opportunity” to deny journalists access to competitions.

“It is more important now than ever to have journalists in the stadiums to cover matches where spectators are not allowed. It is important to be on location rather than watch the match on TV and report,” Merlo argued.

“People are not stupid to buy match tickets and go to the stadium because the experience is different and there are things you, as a journalist, see and observe in the stadium that you cannot see on television to provide a balanced, fair and accurate story,” he explained.

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