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Blunt over-regulation will run media out of town

By Victor Bwire | September 23rd 2021

While great strides have been made in Kenya’s media sector, challenges still abound. These include political manipulation and editorial influencing, threats against journalists, overbearing regulation, exposure to content theft by digital platforms and debts by public agencies. Unless the government and industry work out a system that creates the right environment for doing business in the sector, soon, credible media will be a thing of the past. Barriers to traditional media are increasing.

Because of lack of dialogue and honest information sharing between government, regulators, and media owners/managers, many decisions affecting the industry are made in the dark. For example, advertisements on alcohol are banned on traditional media, but allowed online where global trends indicate minors consume content. There is no research that guides policy decision relating to the industry. That’s why calls for a media support fund have gained currency.

How is the enforcement of the Copyright Act of Kenya protecting media against content theft, plagiarism and hoarding by including big techs? Can regulators deal with massive losses that media is making because of such business malpractices?

The Copyright Act is strong on protecting artists and musicians, but how does it protect media houses against deep fakes and giant technos that thrive on content they rarely invest in?

The Copyright Act provides for three Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) within the music industry, which are individually licensed by the Kenya Copyright Board (Kecobo) under Section 46 (2) to represent different classes of rights, namely: Composers, authors and music publishers of musical works – represented by Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK); Producers of sound recordings – represented by Kenya Association of Music Producers (Kamp); and Performers (singers, actors) – represented by Performers Rights Society of Kenya (Prisk).

Is Kecobo doing much to protect the media industry against exploitation and content theft? Stations are expected to pay between Sh20,000 and Sh300,000 yearly to Kamp and Prisk for sound recordings, and a similar amount for audiovisual works, from public broadcasters and community broadcasters respectively. Thus, public broadcasters are required to cough out Sh600,000 yearly, private Sh240,000 while community stations are expected to pay Sh40,000.

Averagely one requires, in addition to the costs of forming a community group and registering it, Sh700,000 to start a community radio station,  Sh3million for a small commercial station including costs of registering a company, acquiring broadcasting equipment and hiring staff, while an average television station requires Sh10 million to start and operate.

The cost of content distribution for a national TV station with one channel is Sh300,000 per month, the cost of acquiring a license is Sh180,000. For newspapers, the Books and Newspaper Act requires that they deposit a bond. In addition, the media enterprises must pay the other relevant national and county government loans and levies which has made the business very expensive.

Mr Bwire is deputy CEO and programmes manager at the Media Council of Kenya


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