That the media sector in Kenya, just like other industries and professions, is going through tremendous transformation and requires new innovative business models is no longer in question.
The changes are necessary and important. Some will bring the desired results of ensuring the industry survives -- the Covid-19 pandemic and more, but might be very costly management approaches to running a profession.
Changes in the sector must happen but must be curated well, lest we remain with an industry that will not serve public interest.
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Such a highly sensitive industry cannot afford to employ a catch-up game and panic approach in management relating to saving revenues.
There are more tested and stable approaches to dealing with an industry in transformation, including dealing with declining revenues and crisis without destabilising their human resources pool, through sackings and retrenchments.
Content cannot be the king, when you have a skeleton and unstable work force. Getting the most experienced and resourceful staff out of the newsroom will not help deal with the current need for more in-depth and well-sourced news.
Discussion around the effects of the current disruption in the business models in an industry that for a long-time relied on advertisement revenue -- especially from the government -- is very relevant.
Media enterprises must relook -- a number already are doing that -- their business models, but need legal and policy support, to, among others make the global technology firms pay for content they get from local media.
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A number of players in the industry including the Media Council of Kenya, the Kenya Editors Guild and the Kenya Union of Journalists have proposed the establishment of a media diversity fund managed by independent trustees to sustainably respond to funding and professionalism challenges and gaps affecting the media.
In addition, there are calls for tax reforms on media equipment and payment of debts owed to the media, as measures that will allow the industry play the national duty expected of it.
This proposal has been opposed by some people who say funding of the media from the tax players kitty will compromise media independence.
Tax payers funding of the media is not unique to Kenya, for its practised in many countries -- including Sweden and Canada -- for freedom of expression and access to information are fundamental to human rights and national development.
Growth in the media sector has not seen a relative development in terms of job-creation, quality of content, diversity and plurality in voices and both viability and sustainability.
With the proliferation of digital media and citizen journalism, the old business model for sustainable media outlets has come into question.
When media enterprises are self-sustaining – financially liberated from corrupt practices, government influence, or dependence on foreign non-governmental organisations – they are more likely to assert and maintain their editorial freedom and independence.
Media business is a very expensive investment and the operating environment must be conducive to allow the sector not only play its central role in the democratic process, but also make returns on investment.
With nearly 200 radio stations, 85 television stations, 100 print publications and 200 online media outlets, the media industry in Kenya is a big contributor to the national economy.
Thus, it should not just be looked at in terms of news reporting.
Averagely, one requires Sh700,000 to start a community radio station and Sh3 million for a small commercial station.
An average TV station requires upto Sh10 million to start and operate in Kenya.
For newspapers, in addition to the investment in equipment and staff, the Books and Newspaper Act requires that you deposit a bond.
In addition, the media enterprises have to pay the other relevant national and county government loans and levies, making the business very expensive.
Many media enterprises are still run as family entities shrouded in mysteries, thus have not benefited from advantages that come with registering with the Capital Markets Authority. It is wrong for media managers to continue sacking journalists over dipping revenues. Cheap labour is never the right approach for any serious business.
- The writer is the programme’s officer at the Media Council of Kenya.