Journalists and lobby groups have urged the government to rescind its decision to stop advertising its services in commercial media.
The government plans to restrict its advertisement of tenders and jobs through its newspaper, My.Gov.
Lobby groups said this was a wrong move that will hurt the country’s media. About 30 per cent of media advertising revenue comes from the government.
Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi said this will hurt the Fourth Estate, their shareholders and investors. “Jubilee has had a love-hate relationship with the media. In the love triangle, Jubilee leaders haven’t hidden their appetite to gobble up media ownership through insider acquisitions.”
He said the directive to all ministries, departments and agencies to advertise only with a government publication was caused by the tumultuous relationship between the government and the media.
“Nasa appeals to Kenyans and investors to be aware that their investments are at risk under Jubilee,” said Mr Mudavadi.
In separate interviews, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Article 19 and the Kenya Union of Journalists urged the government to shelve the directive.
However, the Competition Authority of Kenya director-general Wang’ombe Kariuki said: “The government has conducted an analysis and concluded that it will reduce costs.”
All ministries, departments and agencies were instructed to advertise through the government newspaper, currently circulating as an insert in The Star and People Daily.
In the memo stamped ‘secret’, President Kenyatta’s Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua said the government was trying to save money.
Accounting officers were warned they would pay the cost from their pockets if they violated the directive.
Government advertising is tightly controlled by its advertising agency and is determined by how government officials judge coverage.
Article 19’s Regional Director Henry Maina described the directive as ‘wrong from a legal, administrative and economic standpoint”.
He accused the government of intending to directly or indirectly determine newspapers’ editorial content.
“It is not fair to ask the media to circulate a government publication yet they do not even have control over what is published in it,” he says.
He says economically, the decision will lead to massive media job losses.
Similar sentiments were made by Mr George Morara, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights’ vice chair.
“Our main fear is, what will stop government from selecting what information they want published in the publication?” He said the move will also go against the Jubilee government’s pledge to create more jobs.
KUJ described the move as the “latest assault on media freedom”.
Secretary-General Erick Oduor said the policy contradicts the principles of a free market economy that requires government to provide a conducive environment for businesses to thrive.
“In the prevailing circumstances where the media industry is experiencing numerous challenges occasioned by technological changes, we expect the government to either reduce or waive taxes on printing materials instead of adopting policies that would further lead to job losses,” said Mr Oduor.
He urged the government to stick “to procurement law that requires government tenders to be advertised in at least two national newspapers to protect taxpayers’ funds that will end up in private individuals’ pocket.”
In the government memo dated February 8, 2017, Cabinet was not satisfied with the role being played by commercial newspapers and TV stations.
Mr Kinyua said the new free circulating newspaper will champion the government agenda.
My.Gov was first launched as an online portal in 2015 where citizens could access news and information about government.