What you need to know:
- Unfounded accusations are most unhelpful as they erode Kenyans’ trust in the media as a key institution necessary for upholding democracy, good governance, rule of law, promotion of human rights and other important values in society.
- MCK is the regulator of media in Kenya but this in no way gives it a right to interfere with editorial independence.
The Kenya Editors’ Guild has noted with grave concern the Media Council of Kenya’s (MCK) statement of February 27, 2020, “Seek the truth and report it — cause no harm”.
KEG takes serious exception to such accusations and would like to protest in the strongest terms possible such affront to media and editorial integrity and credibility. It is sad, grave and alarming that MCK, a body constitutionally mandated to protect independent journalism, can resort to threats and blanket condemnation in clear breach of media freedom in Kenya.
The statement accuses the media of serial “betrayal of public interest and violations of the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya” and claims there is a pattern of screaming headlines without corresponding and appropriate content, multiple repetitions of headlines over a short period of time and partisan and skewed coverage and presentation of news and current affairs.
These are very serious accusations. They amount to severe indictment of the Kenyan media and question the integrity and credibility of not only the media, but also editors and journalists.
Editors and journalists are committed to the provision of credible information Kenyans need for social and civic development.
Where there is failure, clear resolution mechanisms are provided for in law. Unfounded accusations are most unhelpful as they erode Kenyans’ trust in the media as a key institution necessary for upholding democracy, good governance, rule of law, promotion of human rights and other important values in society.
We are perplexed that, beyond the generalised and blanket condemnation, MCK does not cite any example of the breaches of the Code of Conduct complained of. Neither is there any indication as to the identity of any aggrieved party that may have lodged a complaint.
We find this irresponsible and negligent at the least since the same MCK houses the entity with the legal mandate to arbitrate in the media — the Complaints Commission. If, indeed, a complaint has been lodged, then this deserves diligent attention through the laid-down procedures.
MCK says it reached the conclusion following critical analyses of media content in the past few months, but fails to provide evidence on the existence of such a study, the period it was undertaken, terms of reference, methodology, authors and presentation of a report and recommendations.
In the absence of such evidence, it is clear that the MCK is out of control, overstepping its mandate and clearly a threat to media freedom as enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya.
These fears are not new. KEG has frequently cautioned that MCK is displaying worrying traits in seeking to place curbs on constitutional guarantees of media freedom. Last July, the guild appeared before a committee appointed by the MCK to review relationships with other media associations.
In our presentation we noted: “It is worth remembering that the MCK is the child of a long struggle towards securing and entrenching a free and independent media.
“This was a struggle waged not in isolation but as part of the broader one for a just and democratic society, culminating in the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1991 and enactment of the new Constitution in 2010.
“We see MCK not as a prefect or overseer but partner of the media representative associations — KEG and many others — responsible for its foundation as the industry regulator.”
In November, KEG voiced its concern on draft accreditation guidelines published by MCK and cautioned that, though supposedly meant to enhance professional and ethical media, they veered towards restriction:
“We ask for specific attention to the principle that regulation is not control; that persuasion and buy-in is preferable to the penal approach; and the need to ease rather than restrict entry into journalism.”
This was informed by indications that MCK was seeking to impose itself as a government agency to control the media. The latest statement only reinforces such fears.
MCK is the regulator of media in Kenya but this in no way gives it a right to interfere with editorial independence. We ask MCK to provide evidence on which its statement was based or withdraw the statement and apologise to the media, journalists and other Kenyans.
Churchill Otieno, president, Kenya Editors’ Guild (KEG). info@ kenyaeditorsguild.org @KenyaEditors