Current media crisis caused by digital break, says CS Owalo

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo during the  Inaugural Symposium on Enhancing Cybersecurity for National Development at the National Defence University in Lanet, Nakuru County, on October 26, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The government is hesitant to own up to the role it has played at distabilising Kenya's legacy media and has instead linked the challenges the Fourth Estate has been facing to digital disruption.

Information, Communications and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo, during an interview with The Standard, said he has formed a working group to deliberate on the future of the Fourth Estate.

“This is caused by changes in the shift to the digital space as opposed to the physical one. This is the reality of dynamism. The print revenue has diminished drastically, which is why I recently formed a sector working group so that we can determine the environment, and what we need to do to ensure sustainability,” said the CS.

He said that in the sector working group, he had brought together the media players including the Media Owners Association, Editors Guild, among others, to ensure that a solution is arrived at.

“We are all partners in this. What we need in the discussion is how media houses position themselves to the realities unfolding,” said Owalo. 

He said the work of the government was to create policy and legal framework and enabling environment.

The CS said that the government, after paying some pending bills to the media houses last week, still has Sh1.5 billion debts to the media.

“We are determined to clear bills, we will be paying gradually. But now with the realities today, we have re-engineered government advertising and significantly cut down on advertising by 45 percent,” said Owalo. 

Discussing the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), the CS expressed concern that the national broadcaster was punching below its weight and that a lot needs to be done to improve it.

Owalo also spoke about the successes registered in government revenue after reviving digital services.

He said the government is making Sh900 million daily from digital government services from a paltry Sh60 million one year ago.

The Kenya Kwanza administration shifted 12,000 government services to digital space from 350, which the CS said has pushed up the government's revenue collection.

“In the past, there have been leakages in revenue collection. Billions every year would end up in people’s pockets. Now we are collecting almost 20 times more revenue from the government services because of simply putting them on the digital space,” said Owalo.

Speaking to The Standard and KTN from his office at Teleposta Towers, Owalo said that they had already onboarded 12,000 government services against a target of just 5,000.

“We have 17,000 government services rendered. If we are to achieve the entire number, then we will be able to collect more than a billion shillings in a day and this will eventually seal all the theft of revenue that Kenyans pay to the government. This is where we are going to,” said the CS.

Owalo said that since the government took over, with the promise of a transformational agenda and with a target of putting up 25,000 free WIFI hotspots to facilitate Kenyan people in the world of trade with no physical interface, they had made significant strides.

“We have already placed 1,261 free WIFI that the ministry of ICT had rolled, adding to the 1,000 more that had been set up by the private sector, this is against our target of 25,000 free WIFI across the country,” said Owalo.

“The immediate targets are the markets and bus terminus because essentially we want to have more people in the lower economy zones accessing free internet so that they can pursue their businesses with ease,” said Owalo.

Owalo said that his ministry was critical in ensuring the interface within President Ruto’s government and before elections in 2027, his docket will have digitised all the government documents and usher in a paperless government.

 He said he decided to work with President William Ruto because he believed he was an agent of change.

The CS said since the Kenya Kwanza administration took over, its digital focus has resulted in 100,000 jobs for youth across the country.

"We are training youths based on job opportunities for digital jobs. We are eyeing 300,000 digital space jobs in the country. Ultimately, we are looking at a situation where the digital space will sort out joblessness, those jobs are available across the globe and pay well. We know of youths who are earning up to Sh200,000 in the village and are paid in dollars," he said.

On his working relations with President Ruto, he said the the head of State is a man who empowers, sets targets and expects deliverables.

"That is why there will be a Cabinet retreat soon to take stock of the milestones," he said.

The CS declined to talk about his past association with Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

"Politics is dynamics. My occupation today is not to think of Raila's future. I worked with him before and I did what I was doing then," he said.

He said people should not ready politics in his last year's forays in Nyanza region.

"Then there was famine and as the senior-most government official from the region, I took a role in ameliorating the pangs of hunger by sharing the little that was there. This was not meant to send any message to anyone," said the CS.

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