The big three media houses stand to lose more than Ksh 300 million if the presidential debates do not take place. There are already strong signs that the planned debates between presidential candidates in the August 8 General Election scheduled for July 10th and 24th are already falling apart.
President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Party and NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga have pulled out of the debate, citing lack of consultation, dealing a major blow to the plans and adding to the pains already being inflicted by a court case opposing the TV debate.
The debate is being organised by Debates Media Limited, a consortium of Royal Media Services, Nation Media Group, Standard Group and other smaller media houses. The companies are understood to have invested Ksh100 million in preparations for the debate with commitments in advertising worth Ksh200 million.
Royal Media Service Managing Director Wachira Waruru is the chairman of the Debate Media Ltd (DML) Steering Committee of Presidential Debates, which was already battling a court case filed by one of the presidential contenders, Abduba Dida.
The companies launched the debates website on May 9 with the aim of driving issues around the presidential and running mates debates that are to be held at the Catholic University. The running mates debate pitting Kalonzo Musyoka of Nasa and Deputy President William Ruto of Jubilee is slated for July 17.
The website also seeks to use media to create issue-based debates and give candidates a platform to interact and engage with the electorate in an effort to help voters make an informed decision.
Mr Waruru says the media houses stand to lose Ksh200 million in advertising should the court prevent the discussions from taking place. He adds that Debate Media Ltd would lose a further Ksh100 million investment in cash.
The media managers are said to be engaged in frenzied consultations on how to rescue the live debates, which attract a huge audience among Kenyans keen to watch their presidential candidates square it out on various issues and their manifestos.
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Previously, it’s been just a political debate, but media houses this time have found a way of joining hands to cash in well in advance by tying it to advertising. But all that could go down the drain, thanks to the critical oversight of not seeking the candidates’ input.
Jubilee Party Secretary-General Raphael Tuju says that the organisers of the debate had neither contacted State House nor Jubilee Party formally regarding the debate. He said the debate is being organised through advertisements in the media by “some people we do not know.”
“They went ahead to give the dates of the debate with no consultation with the president,” he added. “… We do not know what the ground rules are and we won’t participate.”
Mr Salim Lone, Nasa’s senior media adviser, said the Mr Odinga would not participate in the debate under the current proposed format and stipulation.
Even if Debates Media Ltd sorted things with Uhuru and Raila, there is still the headache of Abduba to deal with, which is incidentally the biggest hurdle to the organisers. Media may have dismissed him as an “also ran” candidate but he has come out to claim his rightful position on the roaster.
Dida’s Alliance for Real Change has sought to temporarily stop the debates because they will feature two categories of candidates— those who have already garnered over five percent popularity as per opinion polls and those who have not.
He argues that categorising the contenders for the top seat in the August elections is unfair and prejudicial to the other candidates.