The attention of the Kenya Editors’ Guild was drawn to a surprise Gazette Notice published on Friday April 8, 2022, in which the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communication, and Technology established the Technical Working Group on Local Media Gubernatorial, Senatorial and Women Representative Debates. This was met with sharp reactions in the media industry and the journalism fraternity on two main grounds – that it was State interference in editorial work during a general election, and that it was unconstitutional, wanting of any basis in law, and therefore a direct attack on media freedom.

The Executive Council of the Guild, on account of the Gazette Notice, held a meeting on Saturday, April 9, 2022, and expresses KEG position as follows:

  1. The Kenya Editors’ Guild (KEG) in collaboration with various partners, has been involved in preparing for and organising the presidential and electoral debates. It has been our aspiration and desire to ensure that this is done in the most professional way possible and that independent and/or employed journalists adhere to nonpartisanship and professionalism. This has been done over the years and it has worked well.
  2. The Media Owners Association, the Media Council of Kenya and the Kenya Editors’ Guild have already set up a joint secretariat on election debates, complete with workstreams where the detailed work is on-going. This was launched publicly on March 2, 2022, in a ceremony attended by all the three entities and covered extensively in the news media.
  3. The electoral period denotes Kenya’s commitment to its democratic processes. It is a substantive realization of not only the Political Rights under Article 38 of the Constitution, but also an affirmation of sovereignty of the people and our national values and principles under Article 10 of the Constitution.
  4. Editorial work, especially during an election, is the primary and inviolable duty of the news media in a democratic society. State officers and state agencies have absolutely no role in this, and must reject any temptation to interfere, as that would be an invitation to engage in illegalities. Indeed, the Constitution of Kenya (2010), at Article 34, expressly bars the State from controlling and/or interfering in editorial matters. Article 34 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees Freedom of the Media:
    1. Freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media is guaranteed, but does not extend to any expression specified in Article 33 (2).
    2. The State shall not
      a) Exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium; or
      b) Penalise any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.
    3. Broadcasting and other electronic media have freedom of establishment, subject only to licensing procedures that –
      • Are necessary to regulate the airwaves and other forms of signal
        distribution; and
      • Are independent of control by government, political interests or commercial
  5. It thus came as a surprise to us when the CS unilaterally appointed a technical working Group on Local Language Media and Gubernatorial, Senatorial and Women Representative Debates.
  6. Among the appointees were two Executive Council members of Kenya Editors’ Guild –
    i) Martin Masai – Trustee and chairperson of the Ethics and Media Freedom Committee
    ii) Sammy Muraya – Council Member for Online Media
    While Masai did not have any prior knowledge on the conception, selection, appointment and gazettement, Muraya had had a previous conversation with an official in the Ministry of ICT, on the sidelines of a media event two weeks ago but did not expect gazettement. They were listed in their personal capacities and do not represent the Guild in this task force.
  7. The role of the Media in the electoral process is to facilitate democratic discourse. It is a matter that concerns the entire media industry, whether they are regional, local, local language and/or community.
  8. The Gazette Notice is Unconstitutional, illegal and Untenable in the context of the democratic discourse for the following reasons:
    • The involvement of the Cabinet Secretary on issues of the news media through the Gazette Notice amounts to control and interference with the Independence of the Media. This explicitly violates Article 34(2).
    • The Gazette Notice is silent on what law the CS is using to set up the team.
    • It is to be noted that how media houses, whether local, regional or national, carry out debates is an editorial function. Moreover, in conducting debates, which are essential in a democratic electoral discourse, the media houses are required to exercise utmost independence and impartiality.
    • The technical working group is in this case a ministerial committee reporting directly to the CS and issuing periodic reports to the CS.
    • Whereas the work of the Technical Working Committee will significantly impact on the workings of media houses, the same was not founded on any consultative and inclusive process. This contravenes the values of transparency, public participation and inclusivity. The process contemplated by the Cabinet Secretary instead, runs parallel to what the Media Industry players have by themselves put in place to ensure coverage of the elections including debates by aspirants.Resolutions
  9. Ultimately, the Gazette Notice putting in place the Technical Working Group violates the Constitution, the Media Council Act and the Elections Act considering the process by which it has been established, its functions and the Governmental entities involved in its working. It can only be viewed as illegal and undemocratic and is tantamount to interference with the media coverage of the electoral process.
  10. The stated problem that the CS is seeking to address does not require the state to appoint anybody. It is a matter squarely for practitioners.
  11. The CS does not have the power to direct media houses on how to cover elections, including debates. KEG Statement to Members on appointment of Technical Working Group on County Debates. (April 11, 2022) 3
    Way Forward
  12. We have written to the CS seeking that he rescinds this decision in the interest of media freedom and let stakeholders in the co-regulatory framework to apply collegiality, acceptability and cooperation in a process that is a vital component in our democratic process. The industry can act independently where such action is found necessary.
  13. Media players – under the auspices of the Kenya Media Sector Working Group (comprising 20 media associations and organisations) – in the spirit of partnership and the shared desire to see us execute our mandate in a democratic process, to unite, collaborate and engage to address any gaps that currently hamper the media from playing its effective role in reporting the election.

Issued in NAIROBI on APRIL 11th, 2022
For and on behalf of the Kenya Editors’ Guild

For more details and clarifications, please contact:
Rosalia Omungo
406 Dhanjay Building, Valley Arcade, Nairobi
Tel: +254-20-202-0120, +254-797-956-805
E-mail: info@kenyaeditorsguild.org
Website: www.kenyaeditorsguild.org
Twitter: @KenyaEditors
President: Churchill Otieno