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Cold Wàr Between Media Council And Journalists’ Welfare Officials Boils Over

Gloves off in media regulator and journalism professional bodies fallout

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Playing on the same side in professional journalism, they are meant to be the best of  friends, but the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and two journalism welfare groups are not seeing eye to eye these days.

The bad PR between MCK, the media industry regulator, on one side, and the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG), a professional body bringing together editors, and the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), on the other, has set former journalists who now work for MCK up against former colleagues heading these two organisations.

While KEG and KUJ deny any tiff with the regulator, recent happenings at MCK have left insiders there with the impression that someone is out to settle scores with the current office, led by chairman Maina Muiruri, a former editor of Standard and People newspapers, and CEO, Mr David Omwoyo.

The battle of egos that started in 2021 over the renewal of CEO’s term for another five years, has snowballed into what has ruined the cordial relationship that existed among the three organisations that are supposed to work together towards self-regulation and making journalism an enviable profession.

Recently, nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba took on MCK at the Senate, seeking the House Committee on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) to report on alleged financial mismanagement by the media regulator. In the statement, seen by Business Today, Ms Orwoba wants the Senate ICT committee to provide MCK’s audited financial statements for the last three years. She also raised issues of diversion of funds and nepotism on hiring, though did not provide details or evidence of any malpractíce.

Media Council of Kenya
The statement that nominated senator Grace Orwoba read in the Senate.

At MCK, some see the footprints of KEG President Churchill Otieno and KUJ Secretary General Erick Oduor on the statement. Though none of the top officials at MCK were willing to talk to BT about the issue, behind the scenes they hold KUJ and KEG responsible.

Mr Otieno, the KEG President, dismissed the allegatíons linking him to MCK’s woes. He said KEG positions are discussed at the executive council and members formally notified. “I don’t know the senator, never met her,” Mr Otieno told BT. “On finances, I want to believe MCK is a professional run entity and if there is anyone justifiably interested in their finances they have acceptable ways to engage.”

The statement presented in Senate has been criticized by journalists in various groups. Veteran journalist Hassan Kulundu, for instance, wrote in a Whatsapp group known as MediaWatch: “This is pure witch-hunt. If there is financial mismanagement at MCK, the Auditor General would flag it and appropriate measures taken, not bringing it to debating chamber, worst of all the Senate.”

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Mr Oduor, the Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General, said MCK leadership should face their issues without dragging in other people. “Those guys should deal with their mess. We have no hand in what is in the Senate,” Mr Oduor said. “They have stepped on so many toes that they do not know where the wár is coming from. I also watched it on TV like them.”

Erick Oduor - KUJ
KUJ Secretary General Erick Oduor says he is not connected to what’s happening to Media Council.

There is also the argument that with the board’s first term having lapsed, those interested to join the MCK are positioning themselves to vie. Joining the board is usually through application and interviews, though the Cabinet Secretary can decide to renew the mandate of current officials.

KEG and KUJ chiefs are among stakeholders who form the panel to reconstitute a new board. With strained relations, it is understood there is a push for newly appointed ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo to have the board reconstitute a new board instead of renewing its mandate.

Fingers are also pointing to a Media Council board member “who has had many grudges” with colleagues for leaking out sensitive information.

It is not clear whether Churchill or Oduor are angling for any positions on the board, though they would have to face a conflict of interest test given that they head organisations that are members of the selection panel for the MCK board.

Mr Otieno of KEG explained that the board’s mandate has expired and the slots are open to any qualified and suitable Kenyans to step forward to serve. “Media stakeholders will consider them in an open and fair process, as always,” he added.

In addition to being a managing editor and head of news at NMG and KEG president, Mr Churchill Otieno is the President of the East African Society of Editors, and convenor of the Kenya Media Sector Working Group. Mr Oduor, on the other hand, is a copy-editor at NMG and convenor of the Kenya Media Sector Working Group.

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Fingers are also pointing to a Media Council board member “who has had many grudges” with colleagues for leaking out sensitive information. Media Council of Kenya Chairman, Mr Maina Muiruri, declined to comment on the matter. “I don’t want to be drawn into a matter without substance,” Mr Muiruri said. “In the fullness of time the truth will come out.”

Media Council of Kenya chairman, Mr Maina Muiruri
Media Council of Kenya chairman, Mr Maina Muiruri, declined to comment on “matters without substance.”

A senior manager at MCK, who requested not to be identified, offered some response. “There has not been an audit query that has not been satisfactorily explained to the Auditor General in the past three years. Some of the papers they have printed and taken to the Senate are yet to be audited. This is just a smear campaign.”

Playing tribal card?

The manager turned the heat on KEG, saying it is among bodies that are yet to account for funds given to them by the Media Council of Kenya to conduct their programmes.

Already, it is said Mr Owalo, the ICT Cabinet Secretary, has felt the tensions between MCK, KEG and KUJ and it is hoped he will help iron out the issues. “This is a new minister who is a professional technocrat in ICT,” a journalist wrote in one of the groups, responding to a suggestion that the CS would favour members of his community for the MCK board. “Stop depicting him as representing journalists from one region. Even if you want leadership of MCK, go about it the professional way, don’t use the tribal card.”

The Council is supposed to be independent of media, government, and commercial interests. The board selection panel ceases to exist immediately after the selection, but in this case, the MCK board turns itself into a standing committee  to supervise, summon board members and play a role in the day to day running of the institution.

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BT Reporter
BT Reporterhttp://www.businesstoday.co.ke
editor [at] businesstoday.co.ke
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