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Wars with Media Council of Kenya jolts complaints team’s work

Media Council Of Kenya CEO Haron Mwangi. (Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri/Standard)

Turf wars between the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and the Media Complaints Commission are threatening to derail service delivery.

Lack of funds is another challenge facing the commission adjudged with handling complaints against journalists.

Last month, MCK CEO Haron Mwangi wrote to the commission, saying it had cut further funding to it due to shortage of cash.

“The council has resolved that any further payments due to the members of the complaints commission, including the honoraria for the chairman, will be held in abeyance until the financial situation improves,” the letter dated February 23,  2017 states.

This further complicates the workings of the commission, coming only a month after the Salaries’ and Review Commission (SRC) capped the numbers for meetings for the tribunal at only maximum of four per year.

In the circular, SRC says the chairman is entitled to a honoraria payment of Sh60,000 per month while members receive Sh15,000 per sitting, lunch of Sh2,000 per sitting and transport reimbursement of a maximum of Sh20,000.

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But the complaints commission accuses MCK of sabotaging its work, having delayed to handle complaints for almost five months after it was inaugurated. The two organs are yet to meet to iron out the issues since the commission was inaugurated and sworn-in in September last year.

The commission accuses the council of trying to micromanage it as department after it asked the seven-member team to work from Britam Centre in Upper Hill, Nairobi where the council’s head office is situated.

The complaints commission is a creation by the Media Council Act of 2013 with powers of dispute resolution while MCK is charged with regulatory roles on the media.

The bone of contention is whether the commission is autonomous or should be placed under the council. A statement by the commission’s chairman, Mr Timothy Kariuki, insisting that the committee is independent and should be housed separately triggered the row.

Kariuki spoke soon after his commission was sworn in on October last year at the Milimani Law Courts. MCK chairman Charles Kerich and Dr Mwangi then sought to clarify what they thought was a ‘misinterpretation’ of the law by insisting the commission should operate under the council.

At one time, Information PS Sammy Itemere convened a meeting between the two where it was resolved they seek legal advice from the Attorney General’s office. The AG wrote back on the November 12, 2016, saying the commission is independent.

The commission, using the AG’s advice, has been seeking to recruit its own staff, and lease its own offices but that is hampered by lack of funds.

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However, MCK says it had requested the commission to use the Britam offices on temporary basis but it declined to accept the offer.

“The previous complaints commission was under the MCK but when the law was repealed, it became independent. However, for some reason, the MCK had not come to terms with the changes and insisted we are under them. We had a meeting with them but we did not agree,” Kariuki told The Standard on Sunday. But in rejoinder, Kerich denied his team had been sabotaging the commission by starving it of cash.

He claimed the council had been requesting a meeting to discuss modalities of their separation but the commission had been evasive. The commission has about 50 cases pending before it. Among the cases pending before the commission is a complaint from ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru where the government is accusing the Nation Media Group of bias in the coverage of the controversial Afya House scam.

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