CS Owalo promises to look into government ad spend

 Eliud Owalo

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The new Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Eliud Owalo has promised to look into the disbursement of advertising revenue through the Government Advertising agency, following complaints by the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) that media houses that publish stories that do not favour the government get fewer opportunities.

Speaking during the commemoration of the International Day To end impunity for crimes against journalists, CS Owalo said that he had noted the concern, and promised to come up with a feasible way moving forward.

The complaint was raised by KEG President Churchill Otieno, who said there was a need for a way of supporting independent journalism to flourish.

"Today we have policies that at face value look like they are good but take away the ability of media to be sustainable. Take advertising for example. Advertising has been growing in leaps and bounds, but turnover in news media has been dropping, so much so every December there are no Christmas celebrations but tears because of retrenchment,” he said.

In response, Mr Owalo promised: “(It is) something I have to look at closely and come up with the most feasible way moving forward.”

CS Owalo, who was the chief guest, further explained that it’s been 10 years since Kenya adopted the UN Plan of Action on the safety of journalists.

“We are saddened each time a journalist is endangered, harmed or loses life in the line of duty. We remain concerned that all over the world, physical abuse and even termination of life for journalists in the line of duty still persists. This is to be condemned by civilised society everywhere in the world,” said Mr Owalo.

“We as a country and the government respect media freedom, as enshrined in the constitution and other pieces of law. We do not believe in media censorship or gagging the media,” he added. 

The comments come just weeks after Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif was felled on Kenyan soil by a police bullet, and the jailing of an editor by a magistrate in the recent past, Mr Otieno termed as a manifestation of impunity against journalists.

“It has been many days now since his death, and the time has come for the authorities to share their findings. If we cannot keep a journalist as prominent as Arshad safe in our country, can we keep ourselves safe?  We must ask that because we have just come out of an election period where journalists were attacked and harassed by goons linked to politicians, simply for doing their jobs,” said Mr Otieno.

He also said that besides safety, journalists face economic crimes and challenges in self-regulation, noting that the Media Council of Kenya, which was set up to regulate Kenyan media, currently has no board of management.

Retrenchment and underpayment

His comments were echoed by Eric Oduor, the Secretary General of Kenya Union of Journalists, who noted that there are journalists in the country who have not been paid for two months, as others struggle with retrenchment and underpayment. 

The Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, in a speech delivered by a representative, said Sharif’s case was under active investigation and that his office will prosecute those found culpable.

He also regretted that in the age of digital technology, personal and violent attacks on journalists have been witnessed online, with female journalists facing gender-based violence.  

“As the ODPP, we thus assure you of our commitment to ensuring the protection of the media space and your security in Kenya at all times, in accordance with not only the Constitution of Kenya but also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,” said Haji. 

“These guidelines will ensure that perpetrators of crimes against all Kenyans, including journalists, are brought to account, and will also play a role in preventing any frivolous cases that may be brought against you, as strict adherence to the law will be observed,” he added. 

He also urged journalists to adhere to the code of ethics and refrain from sensational media reporting and misreporting, to avoid undermining the rule of law and public confidence in institutions.

According to the UN, 1200 journalists have lost their lives between 2006 and 2020 for reporting news, and in nine out of ten cases, the killers go unpunished.

UNESCO notes that 274 journalists were imprisoned in 2020 and that only 13 percent of cases recorded by Unesco since 2006 are currently considered judicially resolved.