Review by Ogova Ondego
Published April 5, 2007
Unmasking of the Media Landscape of sub-Saharan Africa
I was excited when I received an email from the BBC World Service Trust in early January 2007 inviting me to “ttend a panel discussion on the state of Africa’s media landscape” that coincided with “the launch of a groundbreaking study by the African Media Development Initiative (AMDI) on the key changes and developments in the media sector in sub-Saharan African countries, including Kenya.” OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
I was excited because till then, I was yet to see a comprehensive media study on Kenya, let alone 17 black African countries.
Come January 15, 2007, I turned up at Grand Regency Hotel to witness the launch of the supposedly ‘groundbreaking study’.
The first thing that struck me as odd was the title of the survey report. African Media Development Initiative: Research Summary Report. I wondered if it should not have been “The State of Africa’s Media Landscape” like the panel discussion. Or is this a bad case of African Media Development Initiative the creator competing with its own brand–The State of Africa’s Media Landscape–for publicity?
Fostering a stronger media in Africa is an indispensable part of tackling poverty, improving development and enabling Africa to attain its development goals, says African Media Development Initiative: Research Summary Report, the supposedly epoch-making survey report on 17 sub-Saharan African countries.
The study was said to be seeking to assess the main changes and developments in the media sector in Africa between 2000 and 2005, to show how training and capacity-building activities have contributed to the development of the media, and to identify future actions with the greatest impact on the development of the media sector in Africa.
The study; funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK Government’s Department for International Development, International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, and Irish Aid: is said to have arisen from British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa in March 2005.
Being such an important study with money from enviable heavyweight funding organisations, one would have expected landmark, cutting-edge and exhaustive conclusions.
But as if aware of the adage that to whom much is given much is expected and as if bent on proving the conventional wisdom in this adage wrong, the report hastens to state: “This research effort was not designed to be comprehensive-geographically or substantively.” And why not, one may demand of the publishers who aptly note that “systematic and reliable data on the [media] sector [in sub-Saharan Africa] is underdeveloped or non-existent”.
According the findings of the arm-chair researchers employed by BBC World Service Trust, the media in the 17 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed are “undergoing significant growth and transformation due to democratic reform and globalisation… accompanied by economic growth and the availability of new technologies”.
The report notes that the mass media are growing in both diversity and number, with radio being ‘the most accessible and the most consumed media in all of the countries’ and television being less widely available. While newspapers remain concentrated in urban centres, mobile telephony has experienced exponential growth, ‘far exceeding uptake of the Internet.’
While community media ‘have a special role in advancing development objectives,’ they are dependent on donor funding.
The research concludes that state-owned media, especially broadcasting services, have the widest reach and greatest influence (hardly true in Kenya). Their biggest challenge, however, ‘is to serve all sections of the population and to become genuine public service broadcasters, impartial and free from government interference.’
The research notes that radio dominates the media spectrum partly due to the lower economic and regulatory entry barriers for owners than those for newspapers or television.
The focus on radio, too, allows owners to expand the broadcast spectrum beyond the urban areas, avoid the economic barriers to consumers posed by high-priced newspaper or TV subscriptions, and to address the high illiteracy rates in the population.
The growth in television broadcasting is inhibited by high market entry costs, high equipment and running costs, slower liberalisation, poor supply or non-existent electricity supply, small return to investors and expensive television sets.
On the other hand, the growth of newspapers is hampered by under-developed commercial advertising market in most countries, with titles being heavily reliant on a blend of private and government advertising and financial support.
Africa is also witnessing an increase in the number of untrained and unqualified individuals working as ‘journalists’, something that has undermined the rise of trained journalists in many of the countries studied. While the number of journalists in Nigeria has risen by 100%, for example, DRC has had a 113% growth in people calling themselves ‘journalists’.
Being a Kenyan who operates on the premise that charity begins at home and using Kenya as a litmus test for the accuracy of the study on the rest of Africa, I turned to the summary of the media sector of Kenya. The section is compiled by Professor Lucy W Maina who is said to hold an ‘MA in sociology and is currently studying for a Ph.D’. So I immersed myself in this summary by a researcher introduced variously as ‘Professor Lucy W Maina’ and ‘Professor Maina’ as if to stress the importance of the media study conducted by a person lacking credentials in media studies. What I discovered was a hurried or rushed document that does not need ‘Prof’ or ‘Dr’ qualification to be credible.
The study, conducted in ‘March and April 2006, mostly utilising secondary data and literature’, is full of generalities, hearsay, rumours, and unsubstantiated sweeping statements that are quickly gaining currency in Kenya through the haphazard and cavalier manner used by Steadman Research Services, KTN Prime Time News and Sunday Nation in conducting their so-called research. (And sure enough, Maina has used mainly Steadman Research and Nation Media Group as her sources of information).
Maina refers to both Kiswahili and English as ‘national languages’ in Kenya, argues that more than 100 dialects are spoken in Kenya (she does not say who says this, she not being a linguist) and, sounding like someone out to re-write the history of Kenya through falsification, claims that; KANU party, which ruled the country for 39 years, [was] ousted, together with President Moi, in the national elections of 2002.
“Prof. Maina then shamelessly writes Mwai Kibaki’s Rainbow National Coalition (NARC), that ‘ousted’ KANU, ‘has been a key factor in the growth in the media sector over the past five years, particularly the radio sector’.
Such glaring falsifications vitiate the BBC World Report’s so-called research findings on media in Kenya.
Firstly, Daniel arap Moi did not contest in the Presidential elections of 2002 and therefore could not have been ‘ousted’ as Maina claims he was.
Secondly, the freeing of the air waves in Kenya was started by KANU in the late 1990s. If the period under study is indeed 2000 and 2005, then the period belongs to KANU and not NARC that came on the scene in January 2003 with the swearing in of Kibaki as third president of Kenya. It would be interesting for Maina to say how many new broadcast stations were licensed from January 2003 and to name them. She does not do this.
Lucy W Maina also claims that former President Moi owns more than three quarters of the shares of the Standard Group without attributing this information to any source.
I fail to identify which Kenya BBC World Service is referring to when it says that Kenya Broadcasting Corporation controls -broadcast receiving sets, oversee licensing of dealers, repair persons and importers of broadcast receiving sets- and that KBC issues permits for every TV set and radio purchased in Kenya.
However what is even more objectionable is the inclusion of TOO MANY SOURCES REQUESTING ANONYMITY used in the Kenya section. Is research synonymous with hearsay or rumour-mongering to BBC World Trust? Is it yellow journalism? If Maina’s claims that the ‘new political dispensation’ allows freedom of expression, why would so many people, if what they say is true, speak anonymously?
Why does Maina list KBC Metro FM and House of Reggae separately as if they were not the same station? Why is SKY TV listed as a national channel in Kenya and not CNN, BBC or Al Jazeera that are at times aired on Kenyan TV stations? I am not sure, too, that Sound Asia FM and Sound Asia are not synonymous.
Why does Maina use indefinite time indicators like ‘in March of this year’, (The government-sanctioned raids on the Standard Group’s newspaper and TV offices in March of this year), ‘late last year’ (‘Kass FM’ had its frequency temporarily turned off late last year for broadcasting supposedly anti-government messages), and ‘last year’ (even though the third company has yet to start up following its licensing last year) as if assuming that the reader would know the year she is talking about? Such time references could be used in casual talk but not in serious research upon which people are expected to make decisions.
It is also incomprehensible that someone would use Yellow Pages, they only list paid for adverts–sections as authoritative information on the number of players in a certain field in serious research.
I may not know Maina personally but I suspect she is one of the many pseudo-experts(scholars, journalists, apologists)that have come up since the coming to power of NARC in January 2003.
I feel more space should have been devoted to new media(internet, websites, blogging, mobile telephony)that have brought about media convergence in the modern world whose future is audiovisual.