The world is marking the World Press Freedom Day, amidst mixed indicators on the state of media especially in Kenya. The media environment has changed tremendously over the years and both the business environment for the media industry and the professional obligations for journalists has changed.
Without going into specifics, a study to be released by the Media Council of Kenya shows that the industry must wake up, and find a different way of doing things: it can no longer be business as usual for players in the sector.
While the theme for the day is on media, elections and democracy, the more salient and urgent need for the industry is the viability and sustainability of the media as it dawns on us the business models have changed.
The channels, formats, dissemination and way of collecting news has changed remarkably, because of technology, change in audience media content consumption habits, digital migration and changes in sources of accessing news/information nowadays.
The research by the MCK also in addition to showing how social media platforms have eaten big time into the traditional markets of media, broadcasting still leads in audiences, print is struggling and retains followers amongst the old and ladies and advertising revenues have dropped significantly, overall confidence and trust in media has gone down for various reasons including poor content, misleading advertisements, inappropriate content, insensitivity to audience cultures and betting promises that never matures.
In addition to the issues raised, generally the working conditions for journalists especially in those media houses that have not developed proper human resources, financial and business models, quality of content is a major issues, as journalists are considered contractors or consultants thus cannot benefit from employee packages, journalists go for several months without pay or facilitation to work and in most extreme cases, journalists are being forced to both collect news, and advertisements from the same sources.
In many cases the country has seen harassment of journalists and intensification of hostilities towards the media in Kenya especially from political party followers.
Many media houses have remained conservative and media regulators constantly issuing advisories while many players have designed skills development programmes that trainings that are largely targeted at cautioning them over the manner they ought to report on issues safely. A number of them and regulators have issued guidelines on use of broadcast platforms, radio and TVs, 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 cushion media bias and content being influenced. Guidelines exist on social media use to reinforce largely existing social media editorial guidelines by media houses.
Additionally, media houses through media owners, advertisers and interest groups are under great pressure to censor news from their outlets with in extreme cases, media owners deciding the guests to participate in talk shows and discussion programs on TV and radio. It has become very difficult for some journalists from particular tribes, regions or media houses to cover some events or politicians lest they are harassed.
Media players in Kenya need to enhance and systematize knowledge on media sustainability by stimulating, identifying and aggregating knowledge and best-case studies that will generate a variety of practice-oriented information tools that can be used by the media industry in Kenya and Africa at large.
Given the reduced revenue base for media, media in Kenya need to invent ways and enhance their ability to operate without outside assistance, typically achieved by generating enough advertising revenue to maintain its day to day operations. Several business models are applied in Kenya and a thriving media industry has emerged making several media outlets economically viable ensuring their long-term sustainability but also expansion to neighbouring countries.
Such models have relied on advertising, sponsorship, subscriptions, public funds, volunteer contributions, a combination of several of these, or on other new, innovative ways. It is important to recognise the importance of media sustainability especially at a time when old media business models are coming under strain due to changes caused by new technological developments and digital transformation in the media sector.
(The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya)