A war of words has erupted between the government and the Media
Council of Kenya (MCK) after a senior official threatened to disband
the independent industry watchdog, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

The council’s chairman Wachira Waruru , said the council is an independent legal entity established by an Act of Parliament and it is not obligated to take directives from the ministry.

He added that the Government is only one of the nine stakeholders in the council and does not hold any special position over the others. He said that the council welcomes the Government ideas and contribution as one of the stakeholders.

“The media council is independent and separate from the ministry. The Act of Parliament clarifies that the council shall operate without any political or other bias or interference and shall be wholly independent and separate from the Government, any political party, or any nominating authority,” said Waruru.

The row erupted when the council, established only in November, appointed a task team to evaluate its performance.

Addressing a press conference in his office, Mutua told the council to wait until a year was up before attempting an evaluation. He also demanded that MCK publish within 21 days an audited report of accounts including their source of funding.

Mutua, who is a former Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) secretary general, said the council has so far rejected funding from the government and that the media act 2007 has also barred it from receiving money from foreign agencies and therefore insisted that MCK explain their source of funding.

Mutua said that the announcement of a task force by Waruru to assess the performance of the media was misleading, precipitate and disingenuous.

“If the MCK cannot work in tandem with its parent ministry , then , as the director of information and public communication and its appointive authority, I will have compelling reason to deregister the Waruru team and appoint a team that will cultivate a much more professional , lawful and symbolic relationship with the ministry,” said Mutua.

Mutua said that statutory bodies such as MCK cannot transact official business with the public without registration or without the parent ministry’s approval and so far the council has not yet received a formal certificate to formalize its existence.

But Waruru led council members in telling off Mutua, saying his threat should be dismissed.

“The threat is imaginary, out of order which has no legal basis and must be treated with the contempt it deserves,” he declared.

Waruru, who was addressing the press at the Panafric Hotel, said that media council is an independent legal entity which was established by an act of Parliament and therefore insisted that the council was not obligated to take directives from the ministry.

He said that the committee of the MCK appointed to establish the task force has commenced its work and will carry the exercise to its logical conclusion and stressed that members of the council will not be part of sitting in the government task force that has been set up.

The Editors’ Guild and Kenya Union of Journalists, on the other hand, said that neither Mutua nor the Information and Communication minister Samuel Poghisio has the mandate to interfere with the operations of the council and added that the process towards the establishment of the media council was protracted and extremely consultative.

David Matende, the KUJ chairman, noted that Mutua’s role in the council is limited to his membership and he serves like other council members.

On his part, KEG chairman David Makali said that the council was a negotiated institution established to arbitrate disputes among the media and between the media and any other parties- the government included.