The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) recently issued a raft of guidelines for covering the August 9, 2022, General Election. One of the new regulations requires media practitioners running for elective seats to resign by February 2022, six months to the polls. MCK argues that such a move is necessary to instil order and professionalism in the media industry.

According to the MCK Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo, journalists eyeing political posts should be subjected to the same rules that apply to civil servants. That is to leave office six months to elections. But that’s not the only requirement. “They [media or civil servants political aspirants: Editor’s note] are under strict edicts not to use their space and influence to campaign for political office,” Omwoyo added.

The MCK boss argued that the press regulatory body had received complaints from elected leaders about journalists, especially talk show hosts, using their position to launch ‘personal attacks’ against some political quarters. The MCK head cautioned that as media practitioners, journalists and editors wield immense influence and this power required them to be beyond reproach.

“The council is committed to ensuring that all journalists and media practitioners adhere to the expected standards and in line with the Code of Conduct for the Practice of journalists in Kenya,” MCK said.

MCK CEO Davies Omwoyo says journalists are under strict edicts not to use their space and influence to campaign for political office.

A statement signed by Mr Omwoyo warned journalists against early campaigns. “We expect journalists and media practitioners intending to vie for elective positions not to use their positions to influence their campaigns or to attack or deny their opponent’s rightful space to sell their agenda,” the statement read.

MCK: New guidelines were inclusive

Maina Muiruri, MCK chairman, told the EAST Site that the guidelines were developed with input from all the relevant stakeholders, including the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG).

High-profile journalists, many of them veterans, comprised the committee that crafted the elections reporting guidelines. Joseph Odindo, a former editorial director of the Nation Media Group and later Standard MediaGroup, chaired the committee.

Prior to joining politics, Kitui Senator Enock Wambu was a senior editor at the Standard Media Group.

Other members included seasoned Kiswahili newsreader Jamila Mohamed, Jane Godia, Njeri Rugene, Sarah Kimani, Alphonce Shiundu, Bernard Mwinzi, David Okwembah and David Aduda. In addition, the KEG Vice- President Sophia Wanuna, Felix Olik, Samuel Maina, Khamadi Shitemi, David Mwere, Henry Owino, Alex Ikambi Mwangi, media scholar Prof. George Nyabuga, Ahosi K’Obonyo, Moses Njagi, Oscar Obonyo and Judie Kaberia were also part of the committee.

Quitting is not mandatory

Maina, a veteran journalist, having served in managerial roles at the Standard Media Group and laterMediamax Limited said that the guidelines are ‘not mandatory but should act as a reference point’.

“It is contained in Guidelines for Coverage of Elections in Kenya as opposed to Code of Conduct for Practice of Journalists which is entrenched in Media Council Act 2013,” he said.

“The guidelines are not new. They are usually reviewed by media stakeholders, not just the Media Council of Kenya alone.”

He said every election cycle; they review the guidelines. “One of the additions was whether we should have journalists who are still vying remain in the newsrooms. They are guidelines hence not forceable.”

For Muiruri, what the council has done is a goodwill gesture. “If a media house is facing a dilemma, they can look at some of the proposals that have been made.”

Journalists – wanting to go into politics – left in limbo 

It is unclear how many practising journalists will be quitting the newsrooms to plunge into politics. However, Fredrick Akali, an experienced radio presenter at Mulembe FM, says he sees nothing wrong with the move. He intends to run for a Member of County Assembly (MCA) seat in Kisa Central Ward, Khwisero Khwisero Constituency, Kakamega County.

“To me, it is a good thing. If you are not careful, there is a very thin line between your profession and interests, so one can leave early and concentrate on political interests. During campaigns, one can get carried away, and it’s the most prudent thing to do.”

Akali reiterated that there was still a long way to go. “We also have party primaries which come in March, and so if you have to participate in them, then you need to be on the ground campaigning,” he explained, adding that the challenge most journalists contesting face is raising campaign finances.

Unlike the mature democracies in the West like the USA, Kenyan political candidates mainly finance their campaigns. Business moguls with vested interests sometimes back aspirants, and candidates do not make public their campaign expenditure.

Lawmakers recently shot down a proposal by the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to have a cap on election expenditure.

Journalists face an uphill battle

“The challenge is that most of these journalists do not have resources, and if they leave early, they might be hit hard in the pocket,” Akali said. “It’s delicate balancing because holding onto their journalism may compromise their campaigns hence losing ground,” Akali concluded.

Meanwhile, the Kenya Union of Journalists(KUJ) Secretary-General Erick Oduor seems to back the guidelines.

The truth of the matter is that when you want to contest, you leave early, get time and resources. So I’m encouraging more journalists to go and vie,” Oduor said.

Naisula Lesuuda, a former newsreader at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) is the current Member of Parliament for Samburu West constituency.

Kenya’s 10th parliament already boasts of lawmakers who were former journalists, including Kitui Senator Enock Wambua.

Others are Lugari lawmaker Ayub Savula, a former print journalist with the Standard newspapers, and Naisula Lesuuda, a former newscaster at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and who serves as Samburu West Member of Parliament.

About the Author

Author ProfileIsaac Swila
Isaac Swila is an award-winning multimedia journalist and a Master of Arts student at Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications.

Similar articles

Invest in journalists’ verification skills to help curb disinformation, expert Redondo advises

World over, disinformation is a virus that continues to permeate newsrooms giving media managers and journalists a headache on how to deal with it. Dr. Myriam Redondo,  a newsroom trainer in digital verification and associate professor in International Relations (PhD) explains how to tackle the virus in an engagement with EAST Site writer Isaac Swila.

Opinion: Never lose sight of your vision when fundraising 

No one sits down to write proposals only to seek money. There’s an idea, a vision, an important goal, the need for impact, and last but not least, the need for change.

Media faulted over its coverage of people living with disabilities 

According to the World Health Organisation there are between 60-80million people with disabilities in Africa and over 1 billion in the world, many of whom live under deplorable conditions owing to societal myths.

How Kenyan journalists are preparing for the 2022 General Election 

Kenyan voters will go to the polls on August 7, 2022, to elect new leaders. As expected, the media is burning the midnight oil, trying to develop strategies to cover the polls. But how prepared are they?

Tanzania: Striving for women digital inclusion

Tanzania has a massive digital gender gap. As a result, it is unlikely to hear stories about successful Tanzanian women, either in leadership or the media.

Three reasons why a Human Centred Design is necessary for innovation

Ultimately, HCD is a toolbox containing multiple tools you can pick out, show your team how to use them, and ensure it becomes best practice

Meet the Tanzanian journalist passionate about the right to clean water and sanitation

Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.

AKU students media research spotlights hits and misses of Kenya’s media

The theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape, from solutions journalism, content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 as well as data smog in the newsrooms, which  the findings show is having a devastating effect on print journalists.

Media Viability Study East Africa: Five interesting findings you should know

The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa

Covid-19: Kenyan journalists go behind the story

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.

OPINION: Modern journalism faces an existential threat

The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

East Africa’s media powerhouses use convergence in business to stay afloat 

Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?

The changing face of Kenyan newsrooms – a case of Standard Media Group

The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out

Paywall: A challenging but promising business model for Kenya’s news media 

Kenya’s leading newspapers – The Nation, Star, and The Standard, recently set up paywalls on their online content. Though some readers are complaining, the uptake has been impressive. Senior editors who spoke to EAST Site’s writer, Isaac Swila, insist the paywall is the future.

How audience participation has changed the media 

What do Kenya’s post-election violence, Sudan’s protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir, and the Arab Spring have in common? The audience played a crucial role in informing the world where journalists were restricted in one way or the other. Today, direct audience engagement in the news cycle has brought far-reaching changes to the media industry.

MCI Uganda: Grooming journalists for the 21st century job market

The belief that journalism can make the world a better place is why the Media Challenge Initiative exists. This aspiration has become more evident during Covid-19, where journalists are at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic across the globe.

‘Future of journalism is video’: Chimpreports founder Muhame

Ten years ago, an ambitious and daring Giles Muhame started an online platform at Makerere University. The platform’s main idea was to bring news in real-time. Initially, the online platform struggled as the audience was still rigid, preferring traditional modes of news consumption such as radio, print, and television.

Fostering Media Viability beyond the global crisis

One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been the dramatic shift in the global digital landscape and digital business. Africa’s media industry needs vision, innovation, transformation, collaboration, and adaptability to develop agile business models.

Vital lessons Kenyan press can learn from Swedish media

Kenya’s media still struggles with undue political interference as evidenced by sporadic harassment from government, coupled with economic constraints that have recently been amplified by the effects of the ongoing global pandemic

Debunk Media: We head into the future of journalism with skills to serve an essential need

Debunk Media, a platform for explanatory journalism wants young Africans to understand how big events in their environments affect them and why those events are important to them… It wants to show them the little dots and the invisible lines that join these events.

Gender agenda: a reflection of the hurdles women in media face

The changing dimensions and presentation of the challenges facing women in the newsroom and the media as a whole call for a dynamic approach by women, gender and general human rights activists.

The pandemic: A mirror moment for the media in East Africa

Almost all newsrooms, big and small, have had their operations severely affected by the devastating disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic leading to loss of hundreds of jobs. Worse still, revenue sources for broadcast and print publications have shrunk as businesses collapse.

Media Viability: ‘Success is more than clicks and profit’

Job cuts, pay cuts, content reduction and closures – that is what many media outlets are currently facing. Some blame digitalization and the coronavirus pandemic. But could it be that they got their priorities wrong in the first place?

Why media freedom is still a mirage in Eastern Africa

Freedom of the media is the cornerstone of a just and democratic society to promote socio-economic and political developments even though Eastern African countries fashion the independence for the sake of complying with international obligations.  

Uganda’s media: Threats and opportunities

The state of the media in Uganda has been the subject of several studies and commentaries. Whether critical or favourable, all attempts to analyze the health of journalism in the country tend to coalesce over its contradictions.

The State of East Africa’s Media: A comparative review of media viability factors

Journalists and the news media organisations in East Africa are today confronted with unprecedented economic and market challenges, increasing distrust, denigration of the journalistic work, and new forms of digital repression exacerbated by Covid-19.

Tanzanian elections coverage: weak policy framework and lack of democratic space

In open societies where democracy flourish, the media plays a critical watchdog role by not only putting into check but also questioning the excesses of the government. Sadly, in Tanzanian media space these pillars seem to lack.

Solutions Journalism: Viable framework for rethinking Kenya’s journalism practice

While solutions journalism as a news philosophy presents many opportunities for the strengthening of journalism practice in Kenya and by extension Africa; it is certainly not a quick fix.

Post Covid-19: Reimagining Kenya’s media future

Just like New York Times adjusted to digital disruption, Covid-19 has presented an opportunity for local media houses to analyze the emerging trends and audience behaviour to come up with innovative ways of generating revenues.