Since time immemorial, the relationship between the state and the media has always been one of love hate. In times when the media is perceived to dance to the tune of the state, the relationship is love. But if the media is somehow seen to be anti-establishment, the relationship is hate.
In Kenya, this also plays out but more often than not the relationship between the Kenyan media and the state is that of hate. Consecutive governments since independence have always viewed the mainstream media with contempt. To the government of the day, the belief is that the mainstream media is always anti-establishment and pro-opposition.
Tragically, the Kenyan media is dominated by three main daily newspapers in terms of readership and around five television channels in terms of viewership. About 10 radio stations compete for listenership. Because these few dominate the media scene, they are the cause the government of the day loathes the media to a point where both the president and his deputy believe newspapers are only useful when wrapping meat.
But Mr President, we want to remind you the Kenyan media is much bigger than your few perceived enemies. When you isolate the mainstream media, there is a big media industry that serves niche markets and employs hundreds of Kenyans. The alternative media, which include business, lifestyle and sports magazines, community-based radio and TV stations and others, are mediums that communicate to millions of Kenyans by addressing specific needs of their audiences.
SMEs Today Magazine, for instance, is a monthly publication that is committed to identifying small and medium enterprises and giving them a platform to share their successes, challenges and aspirations. In doing so, the publication helps to drive the growth of the SMEs sector which with no doubt is the cog of the economy.
For the government, thus, to brandish the whole media industry as anti-establishment and decided to starve it of advertising support is, to say the least, unfortunate. The decision by the government to establish a weekly publication called MyGov and direct all ministries, departments and agencies to only advertise through MyGov was the worst.
While the justification was to save revenue, with the covert intention being to punish mainstream media for their so-called anti-government conspiracy, the reality is that the directive is killing responsible alternative media like SMEs Today Magazine. Without advertising support from the government, its ministries, departments and agencies, this publication and its peers are struggling to survive.
Mr President, MyGov is not hurting the perceived enemies which ironically are getting paid for distributing the publication. To the contrary, it is killing responsible publications serving niche markets and playing a crucial role in the development of this country.
This is not a call for the abolishment of MyGov. This is a plea that just as the Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua issued a directive that all government advertising should be done through MyGov, he should issue another directive telling ministries, departments and agencies they are free to support alternative media like SMEs Today Magazine. And just to clarify, the media in its entirety is not an enemy Mr President. It is the engine that makes our democracy function.
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