Four things journalists want ongoing media reforms to yield

A section of journalists led by former Standard Group Editor David Ohito (center) cut cake to celebrate valentines day in Nairobi on February 14, 2024. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Media practitioners want an ongoing sector-wide reform process to focus on recapturing the space the industry has lost to external players among them an overly aggressive executive, complacent parliament and big tech companies.

At a breakfast meeting hosted by the Kenya Media Sector Working Group, top editors told the Government Working Group on Policy and Legislative Reforms in the Media to also emphasize media sustainability, journalists’ welfare and the training needs of industry entrants.

During the meeting, chair of the working group Tom Mshindi appraised the editors of the proposed changes, among them the repeal and review of oppressive laws, restructuring of industry agencies for growth, and the remodelling of regulatory mechanisms for greater independence and growth.

He also implored sector practitioners to keep sending their views, proposals and solutions for a vibrant industry of the future.

His team has two more months left to present a final report to the government for consideration and implementation.

“Over the years, and due to a combination of factors, the centrality or place of media in a democracy has been lost, so much so that sometimes we are viewed as just noise makers. The reform proposals must aim to reclaim this lost ground,” Nation Media Group Editor-In-chief Joe Ageyo said.

Eastern Broadcasting Editorial Director Martin Masai vouched for the devolution of media power and resources, saying the media industry as a whole had been too slow to embrace devolution within itself.

As a result, government advertising revenues continued to be shared at the top without due regard for the benefits accorded by targeted advertising models of county-based media.

“We will need to also focus on the welfare of journalists in this reform process. The present, lopsided situation where all other bills are paid, except the bills of journalists is not tenable. Without journalism, there will be no industry to talk about in the first place,” Capital FM’s Editorial Director Bernard Momanyi said.

The arguments for focusing on the welfare of practitioners were supported by Kenya Editors Guild’s Linda Bach and Kwamboka Oyaro with media scholar Prof Levi Obonyo calling for a different approach to the reform conversation.

“We are placing a lot of emphasis on the media role in the traditional sense of informing, educating and entertaining the people. What about the role of media as a storehouse for people’s cultures, ideas and philosophy? What can we do within this reform space to recapture this lost ground?” Obonyo said.

The editors were informed that the idea of giving one newspaper a contract to circulate government adverts had the legal backing of relevant government agencies. Ministry of Information official Mike Okidi said they obtained advisory guidance from the government procurement agency and the Attorney General.

“They both said we didn’t need two newspapers of wide circulation. One paper of mass circulation and a government website would meet the requirements of the law. And so this idea that we must advertise in two newspapers does not exist, it has only been assumed to exist,” Okidi said.

The meeting was told that the Working Group was toying with the idea of recommending certain bare minimum considerations for journalist’s welfare, updating the legal regime for Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) and explicitly assigning Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) a pure, public broadcaster role complete with full government funding.

The weight is also tilting towards redefining the place and role of the Media Council of Kenya as a regulator, separating the Council from the Media Complaints Commission, cutting off extraneous roles of MCK such as training, and enhancing its independence through direct reporting to parliament, not ministry.

“The thing is we have to ensure what we come up with is reformist, sensible, forward-looking, acceptable and productive. Of course, it should not be lost to us that whatever we come up with will be exposed to another political process,” Mshindi said.

Mshindi noted that the inception spirit of the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) was not hostile to public interest except that it was never empowered to function. He said in the absence of other innovative proposals, his team was inclined to recommend the enabling of the agency to perform its role.

Also, his team is working on recommending the strengthening of new media, and setting up of a media diversity fund to support the generation of content which is “important but not commercially viable” for media.

The discussions were facilitated by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German political foundation which promotes liberal values across the world. The foundation’s country director Stefan Schott presented to the Group their latest research policy paper on the state of Kenyan media.

“We believe free media is an essential aspect of democratic practice, and we are here to underscore this and facilitate freedom of the media as an important liberal value,” he said.

Kenya Editors Guild President Zubeida Kananu and Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Eric Oduor restated their respective organization’s commitment to free media.