Why State must save media from total collapse

Friday, July 3rd, 2020 00:00 |
Media personnel at work. Photo/Courtesy

This is the roughest economic patch that journalism has experienced in this country. According to the chairman of  Media Council of Kenya, nearly 400 journalists have lost their jobs in the recent past.

Many more are working on reduced pay following the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the look of things, the worst is certainly not behind the sector yet. Advertising is slow. Sales are slow.

The competition is high. On top of this the government, the media sector’s most important business partner, has been slow in paying the media for services rendered. Many media houses may never recover from this.

There have been calls recently by those leading media associations asking the government to set in and rescue the sector.

But there are media purists who argue it is a dangerous call to be made as media are private enterprises who function as watchdogs on the government and thus can’t be bailed out by the same government.

The term media is broad and encompassing. Students of the media talk of the legacy media and social media. Within the category of legacy exists electronic and print media. 

In this country, because of our rather liberal approach to media policy, cross media ownership thrives and those owning print media also have electronic outlets. 

The law provides for at least three types of electronic media: The State broadcaster, commercial media and community electronic media. 

Since in the case of the State broadcaster the government, in one way or the other, is the major shareholder the difficult times we are experiencing would require the government to dig deep into her pockets to bail out the state broadcaster. There is little question around that.

The area of concern lies with the other media: print and the other forms of electronic media. Should the government come to the aid of this sector during this difficult time?

The answer is an equivocal yes. Following the Covid-19 many governments have come to the aid of industries that are negatively affected by the pandemic.

In the US, the Trump administration pumped about three trillion dollars into the economy to support businesses. 

Elsewhere, the tourism sector, airlines and other service industries have been given support.

In Kenya, government has given support to many sectors not the least the tourism and hotel sector.

These are private enterprises no more than the media. As such the government has a responsibility to come through for this sector as well.

Even without a difficult circumstance such as this the government always gets in the way of the media business through taxes, regulation and other forms of engagement.

Consequently, it is time that government explored ways to cushion the ravages of this difficult economic time on the media.

Such approaches could include reduction or cancelling licence fees, reduction on taxes that media houses pay, reduction of taxes on the direct production material that get into the media; generally exploring the media business and considering how to ease the pain.

This is important for obvious reasons. One, governments need media to help pass information to citizens. The country would be unruly without a formal way of communicating.

Two, the media provide employment to thousands of others who indirectly depend on those employed in the media houses.

There is the chain of distributors, of news vendors, of advertising agents, of content generators, among others.

These people depend on the health of the media sector in order to survive. Left to its ways the media sector could collapse and with it many jobs and livelihoods.

Private as the sector may be government must initiate programmes to stop the sector from complete collapse. — The writer is Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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