Stop killing independent media, Ruto's administration is warned

Kenya Editors Guild President Zubeida Kananu, former KEG President Churchill Otieno and KUJ Secretary General Eric Oduor during Editors Guild at Stanley Hotel. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Kenya Kwanza administration has come under heavy criticism over its continued under-hand dealings against the country’s independent media.

Barely two months ago, the Ruto administration withdrew government advertisements from major local dailies and handed them to one entity. And last week, it announced that it was diverting all government broadcast advertisements to State broadcaster, KBC. 

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group (KMSWG) Wednesday condemned the decisions, terming them a systematic way of undermining media freedom, freedom of expression and freedom to access information, in blatant subversion of the Constitution.

The media umbrella group called on international community and rights groups to take a stand against the systematic State affront against the media in Kenya and to advocate for the protection of media freedom, arguing that the new policies violate the principles of media freedom enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution. 

Pile pressure

At a media briefing in Nairobi yesterday, 20 media lobby groups working under KMSWG -- including the Kenya Editors Guild, the Media Owners Association, Article 19 and the Kenya Union of Journalists -- appealed to friendly nations, development partners, investors and proponents of democracy, freedom of information and human rights worldwide to speak out against the erosion of media freedom in Kenya and to pressure the government to respect the rule of law and democratic principles. 

KMSWG expressed its displeasure, irked by the latest circular from Principal Secretary for Broadcasting and Telecommunications Edward Kisiang’ani to all State institutions directing that all government adverts be run only on KBC.

“All public sector electronic (radio and television) advertisements from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that fall under the national government, independent commissions and public universities shall be handled by KBC upon authorisation by the Government Advertising Agency (GAA),” said Kisiang’ani in a circular on March 7. 

Mr Kisiang’ani argued that the decision was “informed by the need to cut on wasteful spending and at the same time maximise on the use of the State broadcaster.”

This happens even as the government, through GAA, still owes media houses upwards of Sh3 billion for adverts.

The blow dealt on the media last week followed a string of actions by the government to deny the crucial industry access to State adverts and eventually starve them of revenue. 

In a similar move, the Ministry of Information directed all ministries and parastatals to only advertise in MyGov that is then exclusively circulated in The Star newspaper. 

Kenya Editors Guild President Zubeida Koome and Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary-General Eric Oduor, speaking on behalf of the 20 bodies representing media, said the assault must be met with unwavering resistance and collective action.

Ms Kananu criticised the State over what she termed  retrogressive policies that she said will deny Kenyans the right of access to information. 

“The Kisiangani memo to State officers and independent commissions is, therefore, an inexcusable breach of his oath of office, short-sighted, arbitrary, erroneous, malicious, discriminatory, demeans leadership and integrity principles, and, therefore, patently unconstitutional,” she said.  

Ms Kananu accused the government of dropping the ball, failing in its duty to ensure public accountability as enshrined in the country’s Constitution as well as the regional regulatory charters that Kenya ratified, including the African Charter on Human Rights and People’s Rights. 

“Advertising is not the only service the State procures. Why the obsession to use extra-legal and undemocratic measures to control it? she posed. 

Mr Oduor faulted the directive, saying it puts the country’s democracy “at stake.” He described the directive to air adverts through the single “State-controlled channel as a blatant assault on media freedom”.

He argued that this was a ploy by the government to kill the media industry. 

“This directive is a deliberate attempt to stifle dissenting voices, control the public narrative and ultimately weaken the democratic fabric of the nation. A healthy democracy thrives on a plurality of ideas and viewpoints, not on a singular government-sanctioned narrative,” Mr Oduor said. 

Mr Oduor raised a concern over what he described as a State campaign that has far-reaching consequences beyond silencing dissent.

He said the move represents a devastating blow to Kenya’s independent media. 

The media lobby said directives by the government may lead to loss of jobs and shrink the already hurting economy.

This contradicts the Kenya Kwanza government's promise to create employment opportunities for citizens, they observed.

“This not only undermines the public’s right to access diverse information but also stifles economic activity and innovation within the media sector,” said Mr Oduor. 

Silencing dissent 

He cited the history of hostility against media by successive regimes as uncalled for.

“The latest assault on media by the Kenya Kwanza government indicates that the open hostility inherited from the previous administration towards independent media, civil society and other watchdog institutions continues unabated,” Mr Oduor said. 

The lobbies highlighted that the directive offends the principle of inclusivity under Article 10, the Bill of Rights under Article 34 and principle of non-discrimination as protected by the law under Article 27 of the Constitution.