BWIRE: Kenya should establish a Media Diversify Fund

By Victor Bwire

It is time a media diversity fund is established in Kenya as a way of enabling the industry respond to the current financial and professional constraints.

Independent trustees will run the fund with contributions from relevant stakeholders and support research, operational costs including training of journalists and purchase of equipment and production of public interest news.

Such interventions have been done globally successfully and have enabled to support media business, as an industry and independent journalism. The fund can draw its monies from a percentage of all revenues from advertisements done in the media, news picked and disseminated by technology firms, donations from development partners, and media industry, Government contribution among others.

Countries such as Canada, Sweden and others have successfully operated such media funds with a very positive impact of strong and sustainable media.

The media business is a very expensive investment and the operating environment must be made conducive to allow the sector not only play its central role in the democratic process, but a business can makes returns.

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 and employer, thus should not just be looked at in terms of news reporting.

Averagely one requires in addition to the costs of forming a community group and registering it, Ksh.700,000 to start a community radio station, Ksh.3 million for a small commercial station including costs of registering a company, acquiring broadcasting equipment and hire of staff, while an average Television station requires Ksh.10 million to start and operate annually in Kenya.

The cost of for example content distribution for a national TV station with one channel is Ksh.300,000 per month, the cost of acquiring a licence is Ksh.180,000 having been revised from Ksh.300,000 previously. Cost of equipment installation for TV is nearly Ksh.5 million.

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 which has made the business very expensive.

In addition, many of the media enterprises are still run as family entities shrouded in mysteries thus have not benefitted from advantages that come with registering with the Capital Markets Authority or related.

These are some of the interventions that are required to shield the media industry from the global economic instability and financial challenges facing the sector in terms of viability and sustainability in Kenya.

Other measures that the industry must pursue are tax incentives on media equipment including subsidizing taxes on printing materials and equipment, rebates in cost charged by content couriers and news dissemination costs, removal of myriad taxes on small and medium sized firms where a number of media enterprises belong and removal of bonds on newspapers.

This is necessary because of massive layoffs by media firms occasioned by disruption in the business models in the industry that saw for along time reliance on advertisement revenue and especially from the government.

Media enterprises must relook at their business models, which a number are already doing, but need legal and policy support including making the global technology firms pay for content they get from the local media.

The Kenyan media landscape has undergone significant changes since enacting legislation that operationalized, articles 33, 34, and 35 of the Constitution aimed at protecting media freedom and freedom of expression. This followed other key events in the history of the industry including the liberalisation of the airwaves in 1992 and the digital migration in 2016.

This has seen an exponential growth in the sector, which currently has seen the country register 100 print publications, 85 TV stations and 179 radio stations. However, the growth in the 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.

The Media Council of Kenya jointly with media industry stakeholders has proposed the establishment of a media diversity fund, akin to the Universal Access Fund at the Communication Authority of Kenya to support media development in the country.

The structure proposes that the fund charges 3% of all revenues from media advertisements to be managed by an independent trustee created through an Act of Parliament or executive order.

The functions of the fund will include supporting research that fostering innovation, provide affirmative funding, training and capacity-building, ensure public and stakeholder participation and ownership through transparent procedures and clear reasons and justifications for funding decisions, co-funding to ensure sustainable operations of accredited members among others.

The author is the Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya