Why the media won't be subdued by Kenya Kwanza

Journalists at work during a past presser. [File, Standard]

The media industry continues to find itself in a tight spot following an avalanche of hits both politically and economically.

The latest hit is the decision by the government through the Ministry of ICT to deny major dailies government advertising revenue. The ministry awarded only one daily a contract to carry the weekly government publication MyGov.

From whatever angle you look at it, it is a clear continuation of an all-out attack not just against the media but independent institutions. As we stand, Kenya does not have an independent legislature; the judiciary is under siege, and civil society is subdued. The only hope remains in the media. The history of the media in Kenya is a treacherous one.

Even with the new Constitution, which provided for several rights that protect the media, it has not been an easy ride. At some point, former President Kenyatta said the newspaper was for wrapping meat. Under his government media’s earnings from state advertising started shrinking. However, the bigger battle has been getting the government to pay even for the limited services the media offered, with outstanding bills way above Sh1 billion.

We hope that will happen soon, following a series of promises. While denial of revenue will have its repercussions, there is a silver lining to it. The media now has an opportunity to regain its place as the Fourth Estate and not the Fourth Branch.

There will no longer be any threat from the state on account of advertising. The media now remains the only safe space where Kenyans can discuss affairs of the country and make their views known.

It is through the media that Kenyans expressed outrage over the insane increases in levies for government services, which now remain suspended. It is through the media that Kenyans have expressed their reservations over the housing levy and other.

If the government was genuine about picking the minds of its citizens on any issue through public participation, it would have involved the media. Ideally, the government must find an ally in free media with free-flowing revenue. The government must find joy when it has the media shining its torch on its operations.

However, the current government has become so excessively defensive that it becomes difficult to imagine such a relationship. We even had the President defend a CS who called the media ‘malaya’.

Now, the media has the chance to be more courageous, and expose all rotten apples and acts of government. It is time for investigative reporting to shine. It is time for strong and undiluted editorial pieces.

The downside of reduced revenue is that the number of Kenyans earning their keep through the various media houses, is going to shrink even further. Those at the steering wheel must not relent, for their mandate has now been enhanced. The media will be the parliament of the people.

-The writer is anchor Radio Maisha