Revoke advertising directive, Kenya Media Sector demands

Media practitioners plan to sue the government if it does not rescind its recent directive ordering all ministries, state agencies, independent commissions and public universities to exclusively air their TV and radio advertisements on national broadcaster KBC.

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group (KMSWG), a coalition of more than 20 different media associations, termed the recent directive issued by Broadcasting and Telecommunications Principal Secretary, Edward Kisangani, as a threat Kenya’s free media.

The directive by Prof Kisiangani came barely weeks after the government awarded a contract to The Star newspaper to exclusively publish all print advertising, a matter that is now before the court.

The media practitioners accused the government of systematically undermining Kenyans’ freedom of expression, media freedom and freedom to access information in blatant violation of the Constitution.

The journalists said restricting public sector advertising to a single, state-controlled channel will effectively restrict the reach and influence of independent media.

“The Constitution of Kenya, in the Bill of Rights (Article 34) guarantees freedom of the media as a fundamental right. 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,” said KMSWG in a joint statement.

KMSWG members include the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) and the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) among others. They, at a press briefing Wednesday, demanded immediate reversal of Prof Kisang’ani’s directive.

“KBC’s editorial line has historically mirrored the government’s position, leaving little room for critical perspectives or investigative journalism,” said the KUJ secretary general, Eric Oduor.

Prof Kisiang’ani last Friday said the directive aims to financially revive and change the fortunes of the struggling KBC.

He defended the move, arguing it is in line with the Treasury circular issued dated July 10, 2015, which communicated the cabinet’s decision to centralise public sector advertising.

The State Department for Broadcasting and Telecommunications earlier this year awarded the tender for the circulation of My Gov, a government advertisements printout, exclusively to The Star newspaper.

The KMSWG said Prof Kisiang’ani’s directive for advertisement of all government TV and radio adverts through KBC flies against Article 34 of the Constitution which guarantees freedom of the media as a fundamental right.

“Already, our lawyers are working on the paperwork and once they complete, we will move to court to challenge this directive. We will challenge all of them.”

The media practitioners said Prof Kisiang’ani’s order marks the latest chapter in a state campaign against free media in the past few months.

The team said the campaign is evidence of the number of state-sponsored trolls of senior editors, ill-advised online campaigns against media houses, botched attempts to limit television coverage of political activities and impairment of media regulation mechanisms.

“This State campaign has far-reaching consequences beyond silencing dissent. They represent a devastating blow to Kenya’s independent media, already grappling with a decline in traditional revenue streams due to the rise of digital platforms,” said Zubeida Kananu, the KEG president.

“Government advertising has been an important enabler of media diversity, encouraging a multiplicity of investors to provide alternative media especially at community and devolved levels.”

The media professionals warned that diverting advertising resources exclusively to KBC will starve young, independent media of crucial financial resources, potentially forcing closures, job losses, and a drastic shrinkage of the media landscape.

The KMSWG warned that state interference in media affairs will send a chilling message to local and international investors.

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

“Noteworthy, also, is that the Kenyan media is simply asking for fair, prudent, non-discriminatory and transparent utilisation of public resources,” said KMSWG.

The journalists said the decisions on government advertising are not designed to ensure prudent use of public funds, but are in pursuit of an insidious plot to kill free and independent media.

The KMSWG has asked all media practitioners, media entities, friendly nations, development partners, investors and proponents of democracy, freedom of information and human rights groups worldwide to unite in defense of a free media, access to information, and freedom of expression.

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