Sat. Feb 16th, 2019

Govt makes another promise to clear media houses’ Sh2.5bn debt

The government has once again assured media houses that it will pay the money it owes them in advertising as they are a “critical development partner”.

The debt will be cleared soon, Information Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said on Saturday at the 2018 Kenya Editors Convention in Nairobi. He did not give a timeline.

“ELEPHANT”

The Government Advertising Agency owes media houses about Sh2.5 billion, a debt that accrued over the last three years.

The media houses have been uncertain about payment since the government has promised in the past to clear the debt, and only after representatives piled pressured.

The CS made the pledge moments after Nation Media Group Chief Executive Officer Stephen Gitagama implored the government to pay up in a show of respect and so as to lead by example.

Mr Mucheru said, “We are working very hard to pay the debt. I know that is the elephant in the room. We face pressure from above and from you … The president always reminds me to ‘finish with the media’.”

PAST POSITION

In August, the CS told media houses that he could not pay their Sh2.5 billion debt because Treasury had not given him the money.

The lack of payment has left the viability of some media houses and the livelihoods of thousands of journalists, who work under difficult circumstances to keep the country informed and the powerful in check, hanging precariously.

The minister spoke on Saturday at Villa Rosa Kempinski Hotel while opening the annual convention that is organised by the Kenya Editors Guild, whose chairman is NMG’s Digital Managing Editor Churchill Otieno.

He was with Principal Secretary Fatuma Hirsi.

Mr Mucheru noted further that, “The media is part of the modern society and with its immense power, it is shaping the dynamics of the modern economy.”

He added, “Technology has revolutionised the way the media reaches its audience with messages that not only promote products and services but also influence attitudes and behaviour.”

US FUNDING

Meanwhile, and at the same function, United States Ambassador Robert Godec promised financial support by the US.

“We will continue to defend a free, vibrant and professional media. The US embassy is pleased to support the editors guild. We have set aside Sh20m towards supporting media freedom and independence,” he said.

“We undertake training for journalists on ethical journalism and freedom and addressing problems such as fake news.”

Ambassador Godec termed the convention a great part of a strong and healthy democracy.

He underscored the importance of the collusion of women across the various departments in the industry, this is the hallmark of inclusion and fair representation of society.

CHALLENGES

Mr Gitagama highlighted the key challenges in the industry, beginning with the thin line between the editorial and commercial interests of media houses.

The CEO also spoke on threats to media freedom across the world even though it is credited for contributing to democracy and economic growth.

The media exists in different times, the chief executive said, noting world leaders’ attacks on its credibility.

He pointed out that in these times, everybody plays journalist, in the name of citizen journalist, increasing the spread of fake news.

“Stories are now broadcast not from hi-tech studios but from the comfort of one’s bedroom and credibility now depends on where you stand,” he said.

“Our question right now is whether the journalism whose history dates back to as early as1556 will stand the test of time.”

KEY VOICE

Mr Gitagama said, therefore, that it is important for editors, journalists and other stakeholders to reflect on issues affecting the industry and celebrate their milestones.

“Journalism continues to have a place like never before but it’s not only journalism. It’s quality journalism which is founded on a bedrock of a set of core values that include independent voices, diversity and freedom of expression,” he said.

“It is a partner to the emerging Africa and the voice for the rule of law and human rights.”

The two day event is a meeting of editors, journalists and other media industry players, who discuss matters including the future of journalism, media regulation and freedom and social media disinformation.

Among those present were Media Council of Kenya Programmes Manager Victor Bwire and Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary-General Erick Oduor.