Nairobi, September 09, 2020
The Kenya Editor’s Guild (KEG) takes great exception to the September 8, 2020 Statement issued by the Council of Governors in regard to media coverage of corruption cases facing its members.
The statement amounted to blatant threat against the media and a gross violation of media freedom and editorial independence.
We urge all media houses to ignore the Council of Governors statement with the contempt it deserves; and under no circumstances succumb to the threats, intimidation and blackmail contained therein.
In a nutshell, the representative body of the 47 County Government heads is accusing the media of running a campaign to malign Governors and portray them as corrupt and inept.
It in particular singled out the Daily Nation newspaper headline of that day on eight governors under investigation or already arrested and charged with corruption, terming the report as sensationalist, lacking in merit and part of a smear campaign.
To that end, the Council of Governors pronounced retaliatory measures, which included instructing all County governments to forthwith cease advertising in Nation Media Group outlets ‘until the situation is rectified’.
The Council further threatened to impose similar sanctions against all other media houses that incur the wrath of governors.
This unparalleled assault on freedom and independence of the media cannot go unchallenged.
It amounts to the governors seeking prior censorship powers over the media, so that no negative articles about them are published.
To that end the governors are willing to misuse public funds as tools of blackmail in the awarding or withholding of advertisements.
That in itself amounts to corruption. County governments and all other entities, both public and private, advertise in the media because they desire to reach specific audiences.
Advertising spend is not a favour, but a necessity dictated by professional analysis and procurement laws, not the whims of politicians.
It is instructive, in any case, that the Council of Governors does not cite any specific professionalism or ethical breaches in the article complained of.
The report is based on court records, as well as reports issued by the official investigation and prosecution agencies.
If the Council of Governors has genuine issues with the report, the prudent course of action would have been raise a formal complaint with the Nation Media Group, which like any responsible media house has its own elaborate in-house complaint mechanisms.
If unsatisfied it would get a fair hearing, it also has recourse to the established media complaints process established by law under the Media Council of Kenya.
The courts of law are also open for any individual or group who feels unfairly treated by media.
In the absence of any attempt to seek redress through formal means, we can only conclude that the Council of Governors is resorting to threats and blackmail because the complaint has no legs to stand on.
This is a grave threat to freedom and independence of the media.
Articles 34 and 35 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantee these freedoms, and bind all arms, units and officers of government to observe and protect them.
These constitutional guarantees are premised on the principle that a free and independent media is Watchdog of Society and a vital instrument for calling truth to power and holding leadership to account.
County Governors cannot be above or immune to media and public scrutiny.
The Kenya Editors’ Guild therefore calls on the Council of Governors to immediately withdraw the ill-advised statement without any precondition.
We would advise that any legitimate grievances be addressed through the proper channels.
In the interim, we strongly advise Nation Media Group, in particular, and other media houses subject to the extended threats, not to succumb under any circumstances.
No offense has been established and therefore there is nothing to apologise for, correct or withdraw.
It would itself be an affront to the cause of media freedom if any media house moved to placate the governors in pursuit of short term gain.
In the meantime, this sorry episode provides for introspection in regard to media engagement with key institutions.
We are aware that some media houses have been signing ‘partnership’ agreements with County governments and other big institutions, both public and private. Some of these institutions also happen to be big advertisers.
Quite often these agreements are struck by the management and commercial wings without reference to editorial.
Unfortunately, some of the entities entering these partnerships seem to believe that they promise favourable coverage.
We therefore urge all media houses to review any such arrangements they may have entered, and correct any misunderstanding that would threaten editorial independence and integrity.
Issued by the Executive Council for and on behalf of the Kenya Editors’ Guild.
President: Churchill Otieno
Vice President: Samuel Maina
Trustee: Pamela Sittoni
Trustee: Macharia Gaitho
Trustee: Arthur Okwemba
Secretary/CEO: Rosalia Omungo
Member (Print Media): Everlyne Kwamboka
Member (Online Media): Faith Oneya
Member (Television): Samuel Muraya
Member (Radio): Ruth Nesoba
Member (Academia): Prof. George Nyabuga