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Thursday, February 21, 2008

KIbaki's bandit government threatens to dissolve Kenya Media Council

In the face of humiliation after having to climb down from their high horse to accept the people's (and America's!) verdict to allow for power sharing, PNU are now venting their anger on the media, their usual whipping boys.

Our sources intimate that the controversy dogging the establishment of a parallel task force to audit the conduct of the media during the electioneering period took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when the government on one hand threatened to disband the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), and on the other the media players reacting with anger and terming the move illegal. The Editors Guild, The Journalist Association of Kenya (JAK),The Kenya Journalists Association and The Media Council of Kenya termed the move dictatorial and one picked "from the pages of dracanonianism." The sharpest reaction was from The Kenya Journalists Association (JAK) who declared, "the task force being formed is supposed to focus on journalists and our conduct during elections and we will only appear at the one constituted by the Media Council, Mutua and the government should know that we who are the subjects of the commission are not going to involve ourselves in an illegality."

"Journalism is not poker, it is a profession guided by the law and ethics, we will not budge to calls by status hungry civil servants like Mutua who think the law was created to colour their big positions, instead of engaging in a futile war with the media Mutua should be busy formulating wars to tighten journalism training and looking for scholarships to enhance information gathering, "said a statement signed by JAK President Jacqueline Aoko and Secretary General Martin Gitau. He argued that Mutua was only representing the government and that his authority was limited under the chairmanship of MCK Wachira Waruru. “Mutua’s role in the council is limited as far as appointment of members is concerned and it ended when he convened the first council in accordance with sections 6 (4) and 9 (1) of the Media Act’ The Kenya Union of Journalists said separately.

On his Part Media Council of Kenya chairperson Wachira Waruru maintained that his organization would still undertake an independent audit of the conduct of the media during the electioneering period regardless of the government’s opposition. Director of Information and Communication, Ezekiel Mutua, had earlier in the day threatened council members to act within the mandate of the recently formulated statutory body or risk dissolution for meddling with the affairs of the parent ministry after MCK unveiled plans to undertake a similar but parallel Media audit. Mutua, as the appointing authority, threatened to disband the MCK saying it should be professional and work within the law. Mutua directed the MCK to call off the proposed parallel audit and instead concentrate on the annual review reports which were expected to take into account the general overview of media related issues but not specifics.

He asked the council to publish an audit report of its accounts within 21 days amid queries over the sourcing of funds to undertake the parallel exercise after the MCK members rejected government funding but were technically barred from receiving the same from foreign agencies according to provisions under Media Act 2007 bill. Mutua also asked the MCK nominating bodies to within 21 days furnish the Director of Information and Public Communication with minutes of the meeting where the names of the proposed nominees to body were floated within 21 days. He questioned the rationale used in recruitment of the Council staff.

He stressed that the MCK was yet to formulate its existence through the ministry to legitimately carry out its mandate and insisted that the provision for an executive chairman with powers to appoint a parallel task force was not provided for in the act that enacted the council. Mutua argued that the audit was "meant for policy formulation at the ministerial level" and allayed fears that the exercise was aimed at victimizing media houses that were biased or critical on the government before, during and after the elections. The department of Information under the ministry of Information and Communication made the directive after the MCK chairman, Wachira Waruru, announced plans to launch a parallel audit of the conduct of the media during the polls..

The announcement has sparked a row between the ministry and the council in what is widely seen as an attempt by the government to muzzle the press.

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