Government to settle media debt as regional editors meet

Eliud Owalo

ICT Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo speaks during the Kenya Editors’ Guild Sixth Annual Editors’ Convention at Pride Inn Paradise in Mombasa on December 02, 2023.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Owalo noted that the presence of big tech companies in the media landscape is a matter of significant concern and scrutiny.
  • Speaker Wetangula explained that independent media is good for development as it fosters transparency, and holding power to account.

The government has committed to pay the debts it owes the fourth estate in a bid to address the cash-crunch that has hit some media houses.

On Saturday, Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo said the plight of media houses entangled in debts is a concern and that the government had sought short-term solace through clearing the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) debts as a quick solution to ease the financial burden. 

“We have asked for the support from the Treasury. I am aware Media Owners Association had a meeting with the Head of Public Service where this issue was addressed. All debts will be cleared,” the CS said while applauding the media for its watchdog role. 

He spoke in Mombasa during the sixth Editors’ Guild convention, which saw other delegates from Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania attend. 

The National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetangula and Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli graced the event in which media sustainability was also discussed. 

CS Owalo noted that the presence of big tech companies in the media landscape is a matter of significant concern and scrutiny, and that the government, particularly ICT Ministry, is keen on ensuring a fair and equitable relationship between these entities and the media industry. 

He said continental efforts for fair compensation from big tech firms is a positive development, and that he is keen to implement the fair and just practices.

“We empathise with the economic challenges confronting media workers. To the media professionals enduring these challenges, I want you to know that we feel your pain and commend your dedication to the profession amid these difficulties. Your contributions are instrumental in shaping our nation’s development and despite the challenges, there is hope on the horizon,” said Mr Owalo.

Regarding the constitution of the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) board that has been delayed by court cases, the CS said that those who went to court were ill advised as the delay was affecting the regulatory role of MCK. 

“Some people went to court and I believe somebody initiated those court cases. I have identified the person, summoned and instructed that person to go withdraw those cases if not he resigns,” said CS Owalo, noting eventually, through stern negotiations, the impeding court cases were retreated, paving the way for the interviews to proceed as per the law’s provisions

At the convention where serious concerns were raised about the independence of the media, the CS challenged practitioners to expand their horizons and think beyond conventional approaches. 

During the event, Mr Wetangula, emphasised the importance of upholding independent journalism and called on media investors to prioritise the preservation of journalistic integrity by affording their employees the freedom and autonomy to pursue truth without undue influence or bias. 

“Many of you work for investors and sometimes they have their balances. I know of one who never hides his political stand. I urge the investors to leave journalists and editors the freedom to inform the country fairly,” said Mr Wetangula.

The Speaker explained that independent media is good for development as it fosters transparency, holds power to account, and safeguards public’s right to accurate and unbiased information.

“Name and shame any politician, any Kenyan whose conduct does not rely on chapter six of the Constitution. Competition in politics is not war, we must compete on good ideas,” he stated.

The Kenya Editors Guild president Zubeida Kananu stated that media sustainability is critical, even as media houses face revenue challenges directly affecting journalists’ salaries. 

“Journalism in the country confronts an existential threat due to various factors, notably the challenging economic conditions forcing media companies to issue profit warnings. The delicate balance between profit motives and public interest becomes crucial. We must ask ourselves tough questions about the cost and extent of state largesse toward the public good,” said Ms Kananu

She said the ICT task-force set up to review media laws and policies, is deliberating on the creation of a media diversity and sustainability fund, supported by media owners.