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Taskforce on media is illegal, media not to blame for violence

Taskforce on media is illegal

Published on February 24, 2008, 12:00 am

BY Wilson Ugangu

The motive behind the proposed Government taskforce to examine the media’s coverage of General Election remains suspect.

This week, the Ministry of Information and Communication was categorical that the taskforce would go on, despite protests from the Media Council, the Editors Guild and the Kenya Union of Journalists.

The ministry also remained reluctant to work with the Media Council of Kenya — a body mandated by an Act of Parliament to oversee media conduct, standards and ethics.

Earlier in the week, Mr Ezekiel Mutua, the director of information, loudly denounced and even threatened the council if they did not work to the ministry’s dictate.

Apparently, the council’s independent plan to investigate media’s reportage of the elections seemed to have rubbed the ministry the wrong way, occasioning Mutua’s bullish response.

The Media Council has maintained that it is an independent body and therefore not under obligation to do the ministry’s bidding.

They have further asked the Government or any other party with issues about the conduct of the media to present them for investigation. Truth be said, this is the only established mechanism for voicing complaints on media conduct.

The ministry seems to insist on owning, controlling or wanting to overtly direct the operations of the Media Council.

Over the past several weeks, the Government has been blaming the media for the post-election violence. The ministry has particularly singled out vernacular radio FM stations, which they accuse of inciting communities during the elections period. It may be true that the media may have acted in less than ethical ways during this period, but so did many other institutions. We have not seen taskforces to investigate the church, the family, political parties and politicians.

It is also worth noting that the media do not operate in a vacuum. The social, political circumstances of the day normally have a big influence on their behaviour. Similarly, the interpretations of media messages and the understandings that audiences bring to the media are dependant on the socio-political environment.

Media not to blame

The last General Election was as emotive as it was competitive. The actions of public institutions — such as the ECK — and those of politicians influenced media content and how the public received it. You would not blame the media for reporting what ECK did at the national tallying centre — KICC.

The Editors Guild, in a show of support to the Media Council, voiced concern about the current political impasse. The guild said the circumstances were not conducive for an appraisal of the media as proposed by the ministry. Any verdict and/or recommendations reached are bound to be misinterpreted. The ministry’s insistence on this taskforce will further divide and polarise the country.

Other than curtailing the basic right of the media to freely go about their business, the Government’s move to investigate media’s performance is a step towards killing diversity in the media. The vernacular radio stations, the target, have in recent years brought life and vibrancy to local cultures.

This is why measures aimed at gauging their performance have to be well thought out, all embracing and clear in terms of the benchmarks that would inform such an exercise.

The ministry, however, should allow the council to discharge its duties independently as mandated by Clause 5 of the Media Council Act. Threats by Mutua to degazzette the council are ill advised and go against the spirit of a free media.

There are more urgent things that need the minister’s attention than the proposed taskforce.

In the wake of the violence that erupted after Kibaki’s disputed victory, there has been a tendency by the Government to constantly tell the media what to do.

The ban on live broadcasts was one such ill-advised move. The motives behind this latest move are political and not in the interest of developing media.

—The writer is a programme manager at African Woman and Child Features Services

 

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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