Media Council report a wake-up call for journalism

Thursday, December 24th, 2020 00:00 |

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What exactly is going on in the media sector? This past week Media Council of Kenya (MCK), in its annual report, released a fairly rosy picture of the industry.

This is a statutory requirement and every year MCK informs the nation how the institution thinks the media is doing.

According to the report, TV viewership has gone up relative to a year ago, same to the circulation of newspapers.

More people are reading newspapers today than they did last year.  The bad news is on radio and social media.

There is a 10 per cent drop on radio listenership and nearly four per cent drop on those using social media. MCK says most people listen to news. 

2020 has been a challenging year for the world, but should have been good for the media sector.

Covid 19 dominated the world of media for the better part of the year. It goes without saying that people have been out looking for any information they could find.

Initially the press conferences by Ministry of Health officials were a must watch for an inquisitive public, to glean out any information that would enable them understand what was going on. 

One would have expected that the public that tuned to television and picked up newspapers to follow the story would have gone on to the internet to do more searching of the same information.

That should have seen the rise in the numbers, rather than reduction, of those visiting social media sites.

It should also not be too surprising the decline in the listenership of radio stations.

The sector has, in absolute numbers, been growing in leaps and bounds. Other data have been showing that the public have been turning to radio stations.

These stations reach fever pitch with elections. Unfortunately, they are critical instruments in the balkanisation of the country into small language group cocoons.

A section of country, neighbouring another, would be so locked into their world that they would have no idea what is happening in the neighbourhood.

The undoing of these stations that broadcast in vernacular is that they have attracted all manner of individuals who now play critical role in their ownership and formulation of their broadcast policies.

Majority of these people do not subscribe into the ideals of broadcasting.

The stations have not hired professionals and qualified journalists to man them.

Instead, they  are populated by comedians, the emerging category of professionals in Kenya— referred top simply as media personalities, and local celebrities.

These people do not have a greater understanding of what radio should be doing.

They may engage in jokes, in small talk, in local gossip among others, but the audience can take in only so much local gossip.

When they want serious discussion, they turn to sources that can provide that.

Radio must continue to play a critical development role or else it would slide into insignificance.

The number of listeners may grow with the coming elections then get into another slide to the south. 

The more intriguing question  is the reported increase in trust in the media. According to the MCK report, the level of trust in the media has grown up to about 95 per cent with a margin of error of less than 2 per centage points. 

It is hard to pick up a fight with numbers, as somebody has said, numbers do not lie. But maybe there is need to interrogate meanings.

What does trust mean?  On the question of trust, it may also be worth comparing this trust in the media with trust levels on other professions.

For example, how well do journalists compare with sex workers, with lawyers and with politicians on trust index?

If there was such a comparison would these other professionals rank better on the trust scale, rank worse, or simply be comparable with the journalists?  

The media would do well not to let down its guards particularly on this question of trust. It is a facetious currency.

Reportage considered wanting on one incident could very well erode all of it away. —  The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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