As the shock over the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to musician Bob Dylan wears off, attention on the African continent turns to its most prestigious journalism awards; the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year 2016.
This year marks the 21st anniversary of the awards whose objective is to reinforce the importance of the role for journalists in Africa’s development and to reward, recognise and encourage journalistic talent across all media disciplines.
Announcing the finalists for awards in 14 different categories, judges drawn from a pool of experienced editors and reporters noted that a record 1,630 entries were received from 38 African countries across the continent this year. Entries for the awards were from English, French and Portuguese speaking Africa.
Kenya has played its part in scooping numerous past awards and having hosted the Pan- African awards twice, most recently in 2015 which were graced by His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta.
Compared to previous year, Kenya has five finalists unlike the past where it has averaged seven finalists annually but this in itself is testament to the growing popularity of the awards and the rising number of African journalists entering the contest.
It is also an indication of the growing quality of journalism on the continent driven in no small part by the demanding standards for excellence of the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards.
Indeed, it is likely that Kenyan journalists who aspire to bag the award and missed out, will be driven to produce much higher grade of work for submission next year. And in this way, the overall quality of journalism in the country will also improve. And this is especially important as the country heads into general elections where sobriety in news reporting will be important in the local media.
But the success of the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards and what the two companies have jointly invested in journalism and media on the continent, should serve as a challenge to local media houses and the business community to also step in and provide similar support for quality journalism.
For example, while the AJAs have several categories, media outlets in Kenya for instance tend to focus too much on politics, denying other media disciplines the opportunity to build a portfolio of good quality coverage of a specific industry or issue, particularly investigative, serialised pieces.
The danger in this is it deprives society of crucial information about certain issues and further denies many journalists the growth that would come from specializing and “owning” a beat so as to continuously produce exceptional work.
Indeed, another positive by product of the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards, is the emergence of freelance journalists who independently carry out their work, publish it or gets it published, and are eligible for the prestigious awards.
This year’s edition of the awards for instance feature three freelancers including Isaac Otidi Amuke from Kenya.
Similar efforts locally would go a long way in growing quality journalism in the country.
There is need to step up by local media houses and companies to match the efforts of CNN and MultiChoice, particularly on a continent where journalists must contend with difficult operating environments, under-resourced newsrooms and where they often risk their lives to cover Africa’s stories.
MultiChoice for instance, has repeatedly had to invest its own money nurture talent it would need to continue to operate at high standards.
Besides the Journalism Awards, it is also involved in the African Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards which reward and inspire local film producers to produce local content which is then benchmarked with the best in Africa.
MultiChoice has provided local communities with meaningful and ongoing support to create sustainable economies through various business and community initiatives such as the DStv Eutelsat Awards and Lets Play initiatives.
The DStv Eutelsat Awards, aimed at assisting young learners to understand Africa’s challenges and to promote the knowledge of how satellite technology can change the course of development on the continent and have, to date, seen numerous young Africans winning various prizes including trips to Eutelsat offices in Paris and further on to witness rocket launches into space.
Let’s Play, an initiative by SuperSport that encourages primary school children to participate in sport in order to elevate awareness of our recreational challenges, to introduce and encourage play, activity in schools and at home.
It’s local production facilities now present in Kenya and Nigeria have trained a lot of producers, cameramen and technical people to be able to produce high quality productions be it in Sports or local film.
Talent that was previously working in the local media without exposure to training and skills transfer now is called upon to do highly technical work without necessarily having to bring in experts from South Africa, Australia or Europe.
What all this demonstrates is that there exists space and market for better trained, better motivated and better exposed journalists in this country and on the continent. Local media should follow the lead of CNN and MultiChoice and play its part in growing the talent it employs.
This year, I am rooting for Kenya finalists bringing the award and glory back home.
To Asha Ahmed Mwilu & Rashid Idi (KTN), Cheboite Kigen (Daily Nation), Dominic Omondi, (The Standard), Isaac Otidi Amuke, Commonwealth Writers, Kenya all the best and congratulations for coming this far!
(Wahome is the Corporate Affairs Manager at MultiChoice Kenya)