Killing the media will undermine our democracy

When Journalists protested in Nairobi over press freedom. [Boniface Kendo, Standard]

The Kenya Kwanza administration is at it again. After denying independent print media government advertising, it has now gone full throttle and extended the same to television and radio stations.

In an edict to heads of government institutions, Information and Communication Technology PS Edward Kisiangani directed that all government adverts run only on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation TV and radio stations.

His justifications were the same as those he fronted when targeting private print media. That the decision was informed by need to cut on wasteful spending and maximise on the use of the state broadcaster.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The main intention is to ensure private media houses do not have a pie of its ad spend, which runs into billions of shillings annually, with the unhidden aim of crippling them for the simple reason that some top honchos want to punish free media.

Yet, in its purported mission to prudently use public resources, they are working against the public good, in addition to breaking the law, which they swore to uphold. The media plays an integral role in enhancing democracy. It is not for nothing that the media is referred to as the fourth estate - after the Executive, Judiciary and Parliament. It is because of its role to keep the three arms of government in check on behalf of the people.

It is fact that a weakened media, leave alone a dead one, will allow corruption and ills to drive. Its other important role of educating and informing the public will suffer the most.

Without free flow of information, the public will become more ignorant and thus limit their democratic choices, including which leaders are suitable.

While the gift of a robust social media will reduce the impact of such an eventuality, the role of traditional media cannot be dismissed.

While Kenyans will still access news and entertainment from new media, platforms such as radio, the oldest communication tool, continue to play an indispensable role. Again, who told the government that everyone listens to or watches KBC radio and TV? 

According to the Communication Authority’s Audience Measurement and Industry Trends Report Q1 2023, Kenya, for instance, boasts over 100 radio stations, many catering to various local languages, many of which are privately owned. 

This on its own, defeats Kisiangani’s logic that by revamping KBC, public sector advertisers will use it to access their target audiences through campaigns and other statutory announcements.

The PS also shoots himself in the foot when he admits that the Government Advertising Agency owes media houses huge amounts of money, which it is not paying, yet there is a policy to clear pending bills.