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‘Nation’ distorted petition against CJ Koome, let’s uphold accuracy and fairness

A citizen filed a petition at the Judicial Service Commission on January 31 seeking the removal of Chief Justice Martha Koome. On what grounds? That is what any news consumer would like to know.

The Daily Nation splashed the story on its front page on February 2 with the heading, “CJ Koome under siege.” The full story ran on Page 7 under the header, “Koome targeted in escalating war with the executive”.

“A petition seeking for the removal of Chief Justice Martha Koome from office is the latest in the escalating fight between the executive and the judiciary, just days after the government lost a string of court cases,” the newspaper reported.

Look at the framing of this story. If the petition “is the latest in the escalating fight between the executive and the judiciary, just days after the government lost a string of court cases,” that means the petition is by the executive, ama are we reading our own things?

A random guy who insulted a man in a pub can’t be said to “escalate” a fight between that man and his wife, even if the man’s home is already a war zone. The altercation in the club is a different conflict, au vipi?

After that confusing headline and intro, Kimathi Street dedicated the next six paras to details of how the executive has been fighting the judiciary.

And then deep down, this: “On Wednesday, little known Michael Kojo Otieno filed a petition with JSC, where Justice Koome sits, seeking for her removal as the Chief Justice and president of the judiciary. Mr Otieno has no direct link with the executive but his petition feeds into the war against judicial officers.”

The petition is by Michael Kojo Otieno, but the Daily Nation is evidently not interested in this “little known” man and his fight. What is the point of the little commentary about Otieno having no direct link to the executive?

First, Kimathi Street creates the misleading impression that Otieno’s petition is linked to the war between the executive and the judiciary, and then denies such a link exists. What is going on here? What kind of journalism is this?

This denial, rather than clarifying anything in this story, in fact, exposes the Daily Nation’s forced narrative. The paper needlessly and unfairly dragged the executive into Otieno’s petition.

Any Kenyan is entitled by the Constitution to petition the JSC for the removal of a judge. What’s of utmost public interest in such a petition is, surely, the grounds upon which it’s built. Whether the petition “escalates” or “feeds into” an existing war is a matter of opinion.

Alarmingly, the Daily Nation carried not a single word about the grounds of Otieno’s petition in the entire 31-paragraph story covering two-thirds of the page. Why?

Is this accurate and fair reporting?

In comparison, the People Daily’s story titled, “Koome walks tightrope as activist seeks her removal” (February 2, p.6) reported Otieno’s allegations against the CJ and provided the Kenya Kwanza administration’s attacks on the judiciary as the broad context.

The public broadcaster KBC Channel 1 put petitioner Otieno at the centre of the challenge against Koome, complete with video clips of the man laying out his main grounds to a group of journalists.

A news brief lasting about a minute by Citizen TV detailed the main grounds of Otieno’s petition and nothing else.

KTN News led with the story in its prime time telecast and offered by far the most detailed and accurate reporting of the petition.

“A petitioner has moved to the Judicial Service Commission seeking to have Chief Justice Martha Koome immediately removed from office,” news anchor Ashley Mazuri read.

“In his petition, Michael Kojo Otieno alleges that Chief Justice Martha Koome has failed to exhibit respect for the rule of law, failed to comply with the law, and has failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence after allegedly appointing excess members to the Tax Appeal Tribunal in May last year. According to the petitioner, the Chief Justice is unfit to hold office for the alleged unlawful and unconstitutional appointments.”

KTN’s political affairs reporter David Muthoka supplied the details, starting with the appointment for three years of 22 members to the Tax Appeal Tribunal. Otieno alleges Koome exceeded the lawful limit of members by two.

Nothing about “escalating” or “feeding into” the war between executive and judiciary, just the facts of Otieno’s petition and the constitutional process that will follow.

That’s accuracy and fairness.

See you next week!

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