In a move likely to raise much concern, the Kenya government has withdrawn its Shs 2 billion ($20m) worth of advertising in commercial media following a Cabinet memo that said the government was not satisfied with the role being played by commercial newspapers and TV stations.
The government advertises its services including tenders, job positions and public service programmes.
All state agencies were directed to advertise through a new government magazine, My.Gov which the government is circulating by inserting in the Star and People Daily. Both papers are commercial and one, Daily People, is closely associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Government advertising makes up some 30 per cent of media advertising revenue comes from the government.
In a memo stamped ‘secret’ to all ministries, departments and agencies, President Kenyatta’s Chief of Staff and Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua argued that the government is trying to save money.
According to the Daily Nation, the memo is dated February 8, 2017, apparently the same day as a special Cabinet meeting that ordered the establishment of a government paper to “articulate” its agenda to the public.
The said accounting officers have been warned that if they place their ads in the media, then they would be forced to pay the cost from their pockets.
in the memo, also copied to Attorney-General Githu Muigai, Mr. Kinyua said, “In line with the government’s desire to cut cost in the provision of services to the public and consequent to the Cabinet decision, there will be no need for MDA’s (ministries, departments and agencies) to use resources allocated to them to advertise their services and convey requests for services from the market.”
“In this regard, each accounting officer shall ensure that any request for services by them shall be done through ‘MY.GOV’ publication. Any officer found violating this requirement will be liable to surcharge of the amount spent, besides other disciplinary action,” he warned.
The Cabinet, according to the memo, was not satisfied with the role being played by commercial newspapers and TV stations.
“During the special Cabinet meeting held on February 8, 2017, the Cabinet discussed and approved establishment of a wide circulation newspaper to be known as MY.GOV that will articulate the government agenda in a deeper and more accurate way for a better appreciation of government’s effort to improve the livelihood of the citizens,” the memo said.
Mr Kinyua said that the new free circulating newspaper will, in addition to championing the government agenda and adverts, carry articles of government programmes and opportunities for the youth and vulnerable groups, which is allegedly not carried by commercial media.
“The paper will provide a link between the government and the citizens in providing information on government programmes and activities on a timely basis. It will create nationwide window for dissemination of crucial information on government procurement, request for services, and other vital areas.”
My.Gov was first launched as an online portal in 2015 where citizens could access news and information about government. After two years, the government has now decided to expand it to a free daily newspaper.
During the launch, President Kenyatta directed government institutions to shift from advertising using the traditional media to digital platforms.
The President said cutting reliance on newspapers and television stations for advertisements and other communication would significantly bring down the government’s spending on media.
“We are spending hundreds of millions of shillings in advertising through the media. Let the ministries and other public bodies advertise through the digital platform we just launched and save that money for use in other things,” he said.
The My.Gov publication is the third effort by successive governments to establish a newspaper in Kenya.
In December 2011, the government ceased publication of Kenya Today, amid claims of financial misappropriation. The newspaper, which was run jointly by departments of Information and Communication, had been in existence for three years.
Two years earlier, in November 2009, Kenya Times newspaper was wound up after employees successfully petitioned the court on grounds that it owed them money. The Kanu-era newspaper was first published on April 5, 1983.
Previously thriving media sector in Kenya is shrinking, severely hit, partly by technological changes and a government advertising embargo.
Government advertising is tightly controlled by the Government Advertising Agency and is generally determined by how government officials judge coverage.