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Cablegate: Kenya's Media: Part Iv - Role of the Media and New Trends

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UNCLAS NAIROBI 002662

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR AF/PPD WHARTON, KEMP, STRASSBERGER
IIP MURPHY, DOMOWITZ
AF/E DRIANO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OPRC KPAO KMDR KE
SUBJECT: Kenya's Media: Part IV - Role of the Media and New Trends

REF: NAIROBI 2640; NAIROBI 2646; NAIROBI 2656

1. (U) Summary. This is the last part of a four-part report on the
state of the Kenyan Media. The parts are: 1) Overview and the new
media law; 2) Radio Stations; 3) Media Houses and Cross Ownership;
and 4) Role of the media and New Trends. The rapid growth of media
outlets in Kenya has set a new trend in motion: competition for
talented journalists who can deliver locality-specific,
region-specific content that makes stations stand out. A few large
media houses have compensated for the dearth of qualified
journalists with more focused training, while others have engaged
in a recruiting war. Mobile phone and Internet-based media is on
the rise while digitalization is set to be completed by 2012. Some
in the Kenyan media, instead of playing a constructive role for the
country at a crossroads, foment political acrimony and tribalism.
Kenyan civil society leaders have called for constructive and
dynamic media engagement that would help Kenya's reform efforts.
End summary.

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Winning Content

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2. (SBU) The word is out: it does not take much to start a radio
station. A small room with minimal equipment manned by 2-3
"journalists" is sufficient. An increasing number of stations are
fighting for limited advertisement resources. Kiprono Kittony,
Chairman of Radio Africa told us he believes that the market is
unhealthily fragmented, with too many media outlets fighting for
limited advertising resources, which total USD 270 million
annually. Media owners understand well that in the end, it is the
content that will secure a market share.

3. (U) The crowded market means that each outlet needs to find its
own niche through content that sets it apart from others and that
is produced and delivered by qualified journalists. The
increasingly competitive market and limited number of qualified
journalists have set off a war for talent and more regionalization
of content as each station searches for a niche. Nation Media, for
example, each year trains twenty young professionals which it
recruits throughout East Africa, with a goal of establishing a
cadre of elite journalists. Popular anchors have been the objects
of a bidding war. Not long after Capital FM's morning talk show
duo interviewed visiting Secretary of State Clinton, they were
recruited by the Radio Africa Group to its start-up station, X FM.


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Too Easy to Become Journalist?

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4. (U) Without exception, all media owners cited the poor quality
of Kenyan journalists as one of the obstacles to modernizing the
Kenyan media. The majority of Kenyan journalists have been
educated in two schools of journalism. The School of Journalism at
the University of Nairobi began offering a full-fledged degree
course five years ago; until then it offered a specialized
journalism curriculum with no degree. The Government-owned Kenya
Institute of Mass Communications (KIMC) was originally designed to
provide "media experts" to the Ministry of Information. It later
expanded its curriculum.

5. (U) Lately, other universities such as the USIU, Daystar, Moi
and Egerton universities have launched journalism departments of
their own. There are many small journalistic training centers in
Kenya's urban centers, which provide cheap and quick courses for
those who want to join the media with a minimum of training.
Unfortunately, even fully-accredited institutions lack basic
facilities. Many see a direct connection between the lack of
professional training and sub-standard delivery of the multitude of
FM stations, particularly the vernacular ones.

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Going Mobile

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6. (U) Lack of access to the Internet has been hindering the
spread of any new media in Kenya. Blogging, facebook and other new
media have been slow to develop. Major daily newspapers all
sponsor blogs but entries tend to feature letters to the editor;
they do not serve as a forum for discussion and engagement. Most
popular and relatively well-maintained blogs are
rafiki-kenya.blospot.com; bankelele.blogspot.com;afromusing.com;
kenyagayouth.blogspot.com; kenyapoet.blogspot.com and ushahidi.com.
One breakthrough has been the distribution of media postings via
mobile telephone. In an arrangement with Safaricom, a leading
telecommunications company in Kenya, VOA provides daily, updated
audio and video stories to cell phone subscribers. Approximately
ten million Kenyans subscribe to the Safaricom service. The Nation
Media Group has a similar arrangement with Zain, another telecom
company. Most radio talk shows take sms questions from their
listeners.

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Digitalization

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7. (U) Test runs for digital broadcasting in Kenya began in
October this year, prompting a rush to buy "digital ready"
television sets. The Kenyan government has announced the year 2012
as the deadline for migration from analogue broadcasting to
digital, three years ahead of the global deadline of June 2015. To
facilitate the migration, the government has formed and designated
a company, Signet, as the signal distributor. Signet is a
subsidiary of the national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting
Corporation (KBC). A committee -- the Digital Television Committee
(DTC) -- has been formed to spearhead the migration to digital.
Having a single signal distributor means that media houses will no
longer need to maintain their transmitters countrywide to reach
consumers. Instead, they will feed programs to the channels they
are licensed to own. Under this arrangement, the Communications
Commission of Kenya (CCK) will still be responsible for licensing,
while broadcasters will be required to sign a separate contract
with Signet for transmission.

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Role to Play

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8. (SBU) Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, during his
October visit to Kenya, chided media leaders for "sleeping on the
job." David Waweru, Managing Director of the Kenya Broadcasting
Corporation (KBC), who was present at the meeting, told us that
Annan believed that the Kenyan media is not playing the vital role

it should in the reform process. Annan alleged that, instead of
providing the public with necessary information, the media
politicized each step and even intentionally published
misinformation. Wawaru disagreed, telling us that the media
managed to keep pressure on the political elite by endlessly
highlighting the still largely unfulfilled reform agenda.

9. (SBU) Shelia Amdany, Executive Secretary of the Media Owners'
Association, was less positive. According to her, Kenyan
journalism is characterized by "political acrimony and tribalism."
As a result, "there is so much negative energy in the media." It
is a well-documented fact that many media outlets openly sided with
political and tribal factions during the 2007 post election
turmoil. Chris Odwesso, Editor-in-Chief of the Kenya Times, summed
up, saying, "The media abhor tribalism in theory but embrace it in
practice." Some media outlets actively reach out to the Kenyan
Diaspora to mobilize the tribal groups behind their preferred
political factions. A Kalenjin station, KASS FM, conducts
interactive programs regularly between Kenya-based and U.S.-based
Kalenjins.

10. (SBU) According to Suzanne Gachukia, a young owner of Sub
Sahara Communications Company, Kenya is experiencing a crisis of
confidence after the shocking events of 2007 post-election
violence. As an institution still considered credible by most
Kenyans, the media has a serious role to play in "catalyzing" the
reform process. David Waweru agreed, saying that instead of
searching for sensational headlines, the media should be educating
the general populace about concrete reform steps. He cited the
example of the reappointment of Aaron Ringera as the head of the
Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission. From the reappointment to his
resignation, all major media relentlessly focused on the
personalities involved, instead of the Commission's importance and
role in Kenya's future. Irungu Ndirangu, Editor-in-Chief of the
People's Daily, cited the dispute about possible International
Criminal Court (ICC) intervention in the cases of the perpetrators
of the 2007 post-election violence. The media rarely covered the
information about what the ICC option entailed and its implications
for Kenya, he said. As a result, to this day, few Kenyans
understand the significance of possible ICC intervention.

11. (SBU) During a November 17 National Youth Forum, leaders of
youth movements criticized the media for not covering the
grassroots activism that was quietly changing the country's
political landscape. They said that the media is often co-opted by
politicians who are threatened by reform-oriented youth groups, and
refuse to cover activist events. Esther Kamweru, Deputy Director
of the Media Council, observed that "when the media and government
come together, people suffer." Rose Kimotho agreed, saying, "The
non-holy alliance between the media and politicians must go." "The
suspicious nature of the Kenyan people and a divided civil society
make an impartial media all the more important," affirmed Irungu
Ndirangu. He noted that the unveiling of a draft constitution on
November 17 offered the media yet another chance to play a pivotal
role in defining the issues at stake during the debate that will
precede that adoption of a new constitution.

12. (SBU) There is a new refreshing movement to create a different
type of media which will be more in touch with ordinary Kenyans and
the country's need for change. In mid-December, the Center for
Rights, Education and Awareness (CREAW), a women's rights
organization, and Africa Community Development Media (ADCM), an
organization focused on the media's role for social transformation,
launched a new Internet-based radio station. According to ADCM's
representative Anne Njogu, when a year-long negotiation with the
Communication Commission of Kenya for a frequency failed, ADCM
decided to turn to the Internet. The station's sole focus for the
next several months, under the title of "Katiba ni yako" (the
Constitution is yours), will be Kenya's draft constitution as part
of an effort to ensure that ordinary Kenyans are informed about
what is at stake. After the planned referendum in April, the
station will focus consecutively on each urgent topic of the reform

agenda, including reconciliation, land reform and judicial reform.
ADCM is fully aware of the shortcomings of an Internet-based radio,
like limited access, and plans to supplement its operation with
mobile phone messages and eventually go digital. Anne Njogu is
confident that ordinary Kenyans' yearning for a media that is truly
focused on their concerns will succeed.

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Comment

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13. (SBU) The media environment in Kenya is highly competitive,
and print and electronic journalism continue to play a key role in
the national discussion of the critical issues that confront the
country. Unfortunately, the highly partisan and tribal nature of
much of the media too often lead to a focus on personalities,
scandal, and rumor, instead of a more dispassionate discussion of
the serious issues that Kenya must successfully resolve if it is to
remain the keystone country of East Africa. The proliferation of
media is a double-edged sword: it offers Kenyans more sources of
information about the issues of the day, but also potentially
further divides the Kenyan audience along tribal, geographical, and
political lines. The Mission has a range of programs aimed at
increasing professionalization of the media.
RANNEBERGER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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