Wednesday, May 7, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

The two day East Africa Editors Forum that was planned to coincide with the World Press Freedom Day had many surprises if not intrigues.

The largest delegation came from Tanzania that was equally led by some of the highest ranking media industry officials from that country. Madam Sakia, the Editorial Director at the IPP Media Group and Rosemary Mwakitangi, the Habari Corporation CEO, led their delegation. In their team was Ndugu Anthony Ngaiza, the Executive Director of the Media Council of Tanzania.

From neighboring Uganda, Mr. Robert Kabushenga, the CEO of New Vision Media Group led their delegation. With him were several media owners and editors of the alternative press in that country.

Although there were representations from Rwanda and Sudan, they were definitely not in greater numbers with no show from Burundi for reasons that were explained by the organizers.

The biggest surprise was the conspicuous absence of some senior editors in Kenya, some of who were listed to discuss such sensitive topics as Editors and Press Freedom, Media Regulation and Press Freedom and The Media and Post Election Crisis.

Wangethi Mwangi, the Editorial Director of the Nation Media Group was slated to discuss Editors and Press Freedom , a paper presented by Dr. Sengodo Mvungi of the University of Dar es Salaam. He was to do this along side Rose Lukalo of the Association of Media Women in Kenya among others. However, for no apparent reason, Wangethi Mwangi gave the forum a wide berth. There were no apologies to that effect, not even from Macharia Gaitho of the Nation Media Group who happened to be one of the conveners of the forum.

Later in the day, it was even more chaotic. Dr. Bitange Ndemo of the Ministry of Information was slated to present a paper on the Media and Post Election Crisis. When he arrived, at least four Kenyan editors that were in the programme to discuss his paper were missing in action apparently without any public apologies. They were Joseph Odindo of the Nation Media Group, Waithaka Waihenya of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, Kipkoech Tanui of the Standard Group, Mercy Oburu of Royal Media and Joshua Sang of KASS FM.

Earlier on, Robert Kabushenga ‘s paper had been moderated by his fellow CEO, Rosemary Mwakitangi of Habari Corporation while the discussion was led by another media CEO, Mr. Wachira Waruru of Royal Media and Ndugu Anthony Ngaiza of the Tanzania Media Council.

As the forum went in to full gear on day one, eyebrows were being raised by foreign editors as to why so many known prominent editors from mainstream Kenyan media were missing. Some saw it as arrogance while others attributed the incident to the perennial intrigues and infighting among editors in the country.

Others speculated that perhaps because David Makali, anon- mainstream media operative and a critic of the media industry through his Expressions Today magazine could be the reason why some editors decided to skip the forum.

Talking to Robert Kabushenga of New Vision and Rosemary Mwakitangi of Habari Corporation before they left the country, I got the feeling that they were not amused by the behavior of some editors in Kenya considering that they equally left their busy offices back home to come and help find a common approach to media issues in the region.

Under the circumstances, as an observer, I found it commendable to get at least three media CEOs from the region who could create time to come and listen to their editors’ grievances, which were many. Rose Mwakitangi particularly found the forum useful in one aspect; she was able to discern the goings on in the newsroom, a good lesson she would take back to Tanzania when dealing with her own editorial staff.

For Kenya, perhaps Wachira Waruru, who is both the CEO of Royal Media and the first Chairman of the statutory Media Council of Kenya, saved an otherwise embarrassing situation. His frank and open dialogue with Information Ministry’s Permanent Secretary sorted out a lot of issues that saw Dr. Ndemo promise to support the operations of the council financially.

As we wait to receive Robert Kabushenga’s invitation to Kampala for another round of the Editors’ Forum, let us hope that the little issues that made many Kenyan editors boycott the Nairobi meeting will have been ironed out and that our delegation to Kampala will be as big as that of Tanzania that graced us with their presence.