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Media reforms gain momentum as stakeholders push for sustainability of sector

Media practitioners in Kenya are advocating for comprehensive reforms within the industry to regain lost ground and ensure sustainability, welfare, and independence.

Speaking during a breakfast meeting hosted by the Kenya Media Sector Working Group, top editors emphasized the need for ongoing sector-wide reforms to counter challenges posed by external forces such as an aggressive executive, complacent parliament, and big tech companies.

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

Mshindi urged sector practitioners to actively contribute their views and solutions to shape a vibrant industry for the future, as the working group gears up to present its final report to the government in two months.

“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.

Consequently, Eastern Broadcasting Editorial Director Martin Masai vouched for the devolution of media power and resources, to better serve local communities and enhance media sustainability.

“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.

His sentiments were echoed by Linda Bach of Kenya Editors Guild and Kwamboka Oyaro, alongside media scholar Prof. Levi Obonyo, who called for a broader approach to reform encompassing the preservation of cultural heritage through media.

“We are placing a lot of emphasis on media role in tradition 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?” he posed.

The editors were informed that the idea of according one newspaper a contract to circulate government adverts had 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 Working Group also considered recommending minimum welfare standards for journalists, updating the legal framework for institutions like the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC), and assigning a clear public broadcaster role to Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) with full government funding.

The discussions also focused on redefining the role of the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) as a regulator, separating it from the Media Complaints Commission, and enhancing its independence through direct reporting to parliament. The group also contemplates empowering the Government Advertising Agency (GAA) to fulfill its intended role and proposes initiatives to strengthen new media platforms.

“The thing is we have to ensure that 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 cautioned.

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

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, which advocates for liberal values worldwide, facilitated the discussions and presented their research policy paper on the state of Kenyan media.

Stakeholders, including Zubeida Kananu of Kenya Editors Guild and Eric Oduor of Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), reiterated their commitment to a free and vibrant media landscape.

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