Kenya’s media space is about to witness a huge change with a $1m investment

Luminate, a global philanthropic organisation funded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay has invested  $1m into Kenya’s media space in order to support press independence and sustainability. This investment is expected to bring a huge change in Kenya’s media space which is already faced with several challenges.

Ory Okolloh, Managing Director at Luminate, said: “We believe that supporting a vibrant media eco-system in Kenya is critical on a number of fronts. From providing an enabling environment for independent media to thrive to supporting collaboration and providing the space for innovation to happen within the media industry, the Baraza Media Lab will be an important anchor for journalists and entrepreneurs alike. We look forward to working with the community and other partners as we build something transformative.”

According to a 2018 research report by Reboot found that the key challenges facing Kenya’s media ecosystem include a lack of innovation among media organisations, skills gaps among media practitioners, weak networking between media and aligned sectors and downsizing at major media houses. There is also a growing concern that the media does not work in the interest of the public as there is a lack of quality and ethical journalism. Some journalists have blamed this challenge on the pressure to produce articles and meet deadlines and the felt like they were too busy to care about what people think.

A BBC report also revealed that the problem facing Kenya’s media is not an excess of media freedom. It is a lack of it. Media freedom cannot, however, be described simply in terms of independence from government. Journalists and broadcasters face immense commercial and political constraints which are constraining their journalistic independence and integrity. The poor remuneration, status and safety of journalists is hampering a free and plural media. Substantial progress in strengthening the media will not be possible unless the working conditions of journalists are improved.

It would be recalled that on December 30, 2018, the Kenyan government shut down three of the largest television stations in the country. The signal at KTN, the first independent station in Kenya was switched off. Officials of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) allegedly went to one of their main distribution locations of Citizen Television and NTV, and physically disconnected their machines. This was after a memorandum was sent  from the then chair of the Editor’s Guild of Kenya, Linus Kaikai, alleging that all senior editors in the country had been summoned by the president and deputy president among other officials government and that if they covered the parallel inauguration ceremony called by the opposition coalition NASA, they would be punished. The stations started operations again after a high court judge issued an injunction against the action.

Although Kenya is one of the poorest countries in Africa with a relatively high literacy rate, its media is still considered as one of the most respected and thriving in the continent. It also boasts of having one of the most powerful advertising markets in Africa. The growth of its media market has been tied to having an avid population which consumes news and information.  

The BBC report also revealed that media has played a substantial role in mediating relationships between citizens and state, in shaping the democratic dispensation in the country and has transformed utterly how some of the most marginalised in society access information on issues that shape their lives. Media has been at the forefront of moves to transform Kenya from a one party state to a multiparty democracy; it has gained a reputation for exposing corruption and acting as a vigorous fora for public debate.

With this investment from Luminate,  journalists and publishers will have the capacity boost needed to report in the public interest through a media lab known as the Baraza Media Lab. This lab which will be run in partnership with Mettā, an innovation and entrepreneur’s hub will provide Kenyan journalists, publishers, and media entrepreneurs a dedicated physical space to strengthen collaboration, networks and skills. 

Churchill Otieno, President of the Kenya Editors Guild, noted: “The Baraza Media Lab launch marks a watershed moment in the push to strengthen media freedom and independence in Kenya. For years, the Kenyan media sector has faced pressing challenges – including commercial pressure, low capacity, a legal framework fraught with gaps, and weak cooperation with external stakeholders. We envision that the Baraza Media Lab will serve as a catalyst to rekindle strong skills development, more collaboration, and ultimately stronger independence in the sector.”

The Baraza Media Lab will be housed at Keystone Park in Riverside, Nairobi, and is expected to open before the end of the year.