BWIRE: Need to revamp KBC and enhance public communication

Reforms and review of government communication and access to information in Kenya as a way of enhancing citizen participation in governance cannot be complete without relooking at the place of the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). Even the David Makali-led Committee on Government Communication and access to information will not have done Kenyans justice, without including a chapter on relooking and focusing on the national broadcaster. In fact, of the Constitutional provisions that remain untouched is Article 33 of the Constitution, which provides that KBC is moved from a Government to a public broadcaster. KBC remains a national broadcaster with a huge potential and will help immensely in changing the media landscape in Kenya including access to information. KBC has 7 Outside Broadcasting vans, 2 VHs/FM links in Western Kenya, stations in Nairobi, Mombasa, Voi, Meru, Malindi Wajir, Marsabit, 5 recording service facilities, 26 sound studios at Broadcasting House Nairobi, Kasarani, Kisumu and Mombasa- they have a number of portable audio tape recorders for field recording. It has commercial services, which are capable of generating huge income like the other private commercial stations are doing. It has 3 services in the radio unit- the National service, which broadcasts in Kiswahili, the English and vernacular which broadcasts in nearly 17 local languages. Radio programming is nearly 99% local. But KBC remains chocked in debts that run several years back, has existing service contracts with third parties, some mired in secrecy while others seem to hugely disadvantage the agency, among other budgetary constraints which if helped to deal, can allow the broadcaster a major player in the media sector. Staff and competency are not a challenge at the broadcaster currently and their quality of content has improved tremendously over the years. That the Managing Director of KBC Dr. Naim Bilal has written to the investigating authorities in the country to look at its affairs with a view to establishing how the institution is in its current mess is welcome and bold. Hopefully, this will help authenticate the debts, pending bills and some contract issues, and allow the management to take the institution to the prosperity route. A study by the African Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa and Open Society Media Program established that while the KBC did not have financial work plans and exact amount of money it owes or owed, it seriously lags behind in technology and current broadcasting trends. KBC has four main sources of revenue: advertising- casual and funeral announcements, sale of permits for radio and television and hire of their equipment and facilities to other organizations. The Kenya media landscape is dominated by private players, whose commercial interests override the public interest when considering content in their media especially at times like this when news has become an object for sale as media houses adjust to new revenue realities and challenges. As currently operating, KBC is a state broadcaster by law- the KBC Act 1989; it’s fully owned by the Government and operates under the Parastatal Act which provides it with semi autonomous status primarily to generate some revenue, but sometimes it puts on a face of being a public broadcaster thus some confusion in terms of sources of revenue, which is the main problem at the station. Borrowing from the African Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression that requires that the State and Government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into public services broadcasters, accountable to the public through legislature rather than the government, the Broadcasting regulations 2009 brings a lot of confusion by saying KBC should not lease or transfer frequencies to other organizations. Why would an institution with such vast resources be unable to generate income by itself as a commercial entity or the Government ensures consistent and adequate funding to KBC as a public broadcaster? Other than the inconsistency in law Government policy that has seen lack of planned state funding, there is something amiss with the management team at the institution; problems that are either structural or just out of sheer incompetence. The Writer is the Head of Media Development and Strategy, the Media Council of Kenya

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