OPINIONPeople Daily

Media restriction not in the interest of Kenyans

Levi Obonyo

It has been high season for those who have a bone to pick with the Kenyan media. Social media warriors, from the comfort of their keyboards, have been raging mad seemingly in celebration following the recent decision to shut down four television stations.

The government had shut down, for seven days, Citizen, Inooro,KTN and Nation TV stations for allegedly defying an order not to broadcast the mock swearing in of Nasa leader Raila Odinga as the people’s president on January 30.

Some people on social media have argued that it made little difference to them since they do not watch news anyway, while others have made strong cases that Kenyan media are not professional and that it made little difference whether they were on or off air. Media content, however, is more than just the day’s news and commentary.

Wednesday’s publication in a local newspaper of a false obituary of a prominent businessman does not help matters for the credibility of the media in the eyes of critics. This comes in the wake, not too long ago, of characterisation of newspapers as being good only for wrapping meat.

The claim that Kenyan media are not professional is not new, but is hardly supported by fact. Where is the evidence that Kenyan media have not operated as objectively as possible, abiding by the tenets of journalism as is expected? It has to be appreciated that from a legal point of view, Kenyan media have some of the most progressive legislation that is the envy of other countries in the world.

In formulating the Acts and regulations guiding media operations, the framers of these laws have benchmarked them against the best practices in the world, providing a near ideal environment for media operators.

Also, Kenya’s mainstream media industry endeavours to put on their payroll some of the best journalist, most of who have proceeded to compete with the best in the world. But professionalism aside, media can not be looked at in today’s world simply as journalism.

Media business is an enterprise in itself contributing hugely to the national economy through taxation. Take for example Kenya’s leading media house which makes profits that run into several billions a year.

Their tax remittance to the Exchequer over the last several years has averaged nearly a billion shillings. Looking at this from the point of view of the entire media industry and the figure is staggering.

Kenya has at least four major media houses, including Mediamax Network Ltd, Nation Media Group, Standard Media Group, Royal Media Services and Radio Africa, among others, who together put a combined revenue and tax return that would be the envy of other countries in our neighbourhood.

One has to look at the chain of the contribution of the media houses to the economy, especially in terms of jobs creation. Their employees are not just the much-derided journalists, they are some of the best in the region, but advertising agents, distributors, accountants, auditors, camera people, drivers, tea officers, cleaners in the long chain of people who provide this industry with services.

These employees have a long chain of others who depend on them­—house helps, brothers, sisters and parents—for support. There are several other auxiliary services that support the media. Kenya’s nearly 70 universities all have schools that train journalists and related professions.

While some have faulted the kind of training offered in Kenya, it is, however, a fact that in a review of the training offered across the continent, Unesco considered at least two of these universities to be centres of excellence in journalism training.

The other sectors that depend on the media industry include the fields of advertising and public relations. Take away media and advertising will be permanently crippled while public relations will not be recognisable. There are some that believe that alternative media are an effective replacement for traditional media. However, a complete shutdown of traditional media would lead to a chaotic environment that would be ungovernable.

Social media serves well as a high street for common gossip. But there must be away of authenticating this gossip—a platform that serves to mainstream authenticated views. Maybe some alternative will emerge, but we are not there yet. Writer is Dean, School of Communications, Language & Performing Arts at Daystar University

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