The Benefits and Challenges of the Radio Industry in Kenya

Joan Okitoi

Nairobi, Kenya - May 2007

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The role of radio in Africa is one that cannot be emphasized enough.

One finds that irrespective of the rapid advancement in technology that has resulted in the emergence of the internet, cell-phones and television, radio remains the most pervasive medium of mass-communication due to its affordability and accessibility, even in the most remote areas.  Among the positive aspects of the radio industry in Kenya is the informative nature of programmes.

Through the industry information concerning economic, political and social issues is conveyed to the public via bulletins and in-depth news coverage.  In this regard one can say radio has been greatly instrumental in directly addressing crucial issues affecting the “mwananchi” (citizen).  For example Kiss 100 FM, through their highly interactive breakfast show were able to monitor political views of Kenyans during the constitutional reform period.

Radio has also demonstrated an increased degree of creativity in engaging with its audience, from the invitation of guest speakers to discuss ways of tackling fundamental concerns such as HIV/AIDS, the role of the police etc, to producing programmes that address the specific needs of the youth.  The influence of radio is evident.

A further development is the increased numbers of stations broadcasting in indigenous languages; these stations act as key channels through which information trickles down to local people in language they understand.

The radio industry in Kenya is however clouded by several challenges. For instance as witnessed in 2005 during the referendum campaigns, some of the content broadcast on behalf of differing political camps was questionable to say the least. Despite the role radio plays in the dispersion of information the content needs to be more carefully monitored thus enabling people to make more informed decisions.

Closely related to programme content is a sense of professionalism. Some Kenyan radio stations in a bid to increase interactivity with their listeners have broadcast phone-ins where listeners call in to talk on air about their problems. Thereafter other listeners call in to offer advice, in some cases the dilemma the individual is facing becomes a source of entertainment.

In such instances the lack of professionalism displayed by radio staff clearly pinpoints the need for the standard to be raised. Recruiting and training the right members of staff will go some way to alleviating this problem.

An independent regulatory body for the sector as a whole seems an ideal way for standards to be upheld and for the industry to be developed for the greater good.

In Kenya, the independent ‘Media Council of Kenya’ exists to uphold standards, however membership to the organization is voluntary therefore its sphere of influence is limited. While there is much to be thankful for concerning the radio industry in Kenya clearly more needs to be done to ensure quality is consistent right across the board.