Struggling Radio Africa-owned Star Newspaper has been given a new lease of life after the state bypassed all mainstream papers and awarded it a mega printing and distribution deal for its weekly publication, ‘My Gov.’
The deal is estimated to cost at least Sh30 million monthly, but it could go higher if you factor in distribution costs through national courier Posta. Radio Africa has announced it will be giving out its Tuesday edition of The Star for free in order to enable as many Kenyans as possible to read My Gov.
MyGov is a publication where all government agencies place advertisements, paying an advertising fee to the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), which then pays mainstream newspapers to carry the publication as an insert.
The state banned state agencies from directly buying space in print media in 2017 and instead directed them to advertise through MyGov. The move was fiercely disputed by media houses, who saw it as an attempt to muzzle the press, but the Jubilee government forced its way.
In its defence, the Kenyatta administration argued that the centralisation of government advertising had enabled it to save Sh6 billion by reducing ad spending from Sh8 billion annually to Sh2 billion.
Since then, the publication has, for the last five years, been published by The Daily Nation, People Daily, Standard, and the Star on a rotational basis. That is, until Monday, when Radio Africa suddenly announced it had won a tender to publish and distribute the weekly publication for the next year.
“The newspaper has become a luxury. We understand what Kenyans are going through right now; they do not have money to buy it, so we sat down and agreed to distribute it free of charge because, for us, we are aiming at promoting readership,” said the Star’s Chief Operations Officer, Agnes Kalekye.
Insiders say the other media houses have been shocked by the development, which has caught them by surprise. The media houses claim they were not invited to bid for the distribution, as alleged by the ICT Ministry and Radio Africa.
In fact, the ICT Ministry had all along been saying it would hand over the distribution of ‘My Gov’ to government-owned Posta and other digital outlets, only to surprise everyone with a sole distribution deal with The Star.
When making submissions on the budget for the 2023/24 financial year, National Assembly Information, Communication, and Innovation Committee told the Budget and Appropriations Committee (BAC) that distribution through Posta would enable government agencies to monitor and evaluate the impact of their adverts.
“The State Department for Broadcasting and Telecommunications is in the process of reviewing the distribution of MyGov from the current model of using daily newspapers to using Postal Corporation of Kenya in the distribution,” said the Budget and Appropriations Committee, reporting on the submissions by the Committee on ICT and Innovation in a report to Parliament on the budget for the next financial year.
“This is aimed at streamlining the modality to enhance value for money in government advertisements. This shall also serve to institute a monitoring and evaluation framework since in the current existing advertising strategy, it is difficult to establish the distribution and delivery of the issued advertisements.”
The Star has a daily circulation of less than 10,000 copies and is the fourth in terms of readership of its physical edition after The Daily Nation, The Standard, and People Daily. The publication has said it will print and distribute 100,000 free copies of its Tuesday edition
Radio Africa is owned 49 percent by Africa Investments Holding Limited, a subsidiary company of Lebashe Investment Group. The other shareholders include Cobby Media Limited, former Nairobi Governor Dr. Evans Kidero, Richard Ayah, Sudhir Vidyarthi, Kiprono Kittony plus co-founders Patrick Quarcoo and William Pike among others.