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Letters

How profits race threatens press freedom

Journalists at work
Journalists at work. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The world is marking the World Press Freedom Day today amid mixed indicators on the state of media, especially in Kenya. The media environment has changed tremendously, affecting both the business environment and obligations of journalists.

Without going into details, a study to be released by the Media Council of Kenya shows the industry must wake up and find a different way of doing things.

While the theme for the day is on media, elections and democracy, the more urgent need for the industry is the viability and sustainability of the media.

The channels, formats, dissemination and way of collecting news has changed remarkably because of technology, media content consumption habits, digital migration and accessing news.

The MCK reserach also shows how social media platforms have eaten into the traditional markets of media, broadcasting still leads in audiences, print is struggling and retains followers among the old and women while advertising revenues have dropped significantly.

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Confidence and trust has also dipped for various reasons, including poor content, misleading advertisement, inappropriate content, insensitivity to audience cultures and betting promises that never mature.

Generally, the working conditions for journalists, especially in media houses that have not developed human resources, financial and business models, quality of content is a major issue. Journalists are considered contractors or consultants who cannot benefit from employee packages, they go for several months without pay or facilitation to work.

In extreme cases, journalists are forced to collect news and advertisements from the same sources.

In many cases, Kenya has seen harassment of journalists and rising hostilities towards the media, especially from political party followers.

Many media houses have remained conservative and regulators constantly issue advisories while many players have designed skills development programmes, including training largely targeting safer reporting.

A number of them and regulators have issued guidelines on use of broadcast platforms, the radio and TV, which among other things require that media owners and journalists wishing to join politics distance themselves from the stations 60 days to elections.

This was to address media bias and influencing content.

Guidelines exist on social media use to reinforce social media editorial guidelines by patrticular companies.

Additionally, media houses through media owners, advertisers and interest groups are under great pressure to censor news. In worst case scenario, media owners decide the guests to participate in talk shows and discussion programmes on TV and radio.

It has become difficult for some journalists from particular regions or media houses to cover some events or politicians lest they are harassed.

Media players in Kenya need to enhance knowledge on media sustainability by stimulating, identifying and aggregating knowledge to generate a variety of practice-oriented tools that the industry can use across the continent.

Given the reduced revenues, media in Kenya need to come up with ways of operating without outside assistance, typically achieved by generating enough advertising revenues.

Indeed, several models have worked for Kenyan companies, ending up with a thriving industry where outlets are expanding into neighbouring countries and being ready for long-term enterprise.

Such models have relied on advertising, sponsorship, subscriptions, public funds, and volunteer contributions.

It is important to recognise sustainability, especially at a time traditional media business models are increasingly strained due to technological changes.

Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya

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