The Politics and Interactive Media in Africa (PiMA) Kenya team held a successful half-day stakeholder roundtable discussion on 21 February 2013 at the Nairobi Safari Club, Lillian Towers. The meeting brought together 19 key representatives from government, regulatory bodies, broadcast media, media assistance/funding organisations, media associations and civil society. It provided an active forum to introduce stakeholders to the PiMA project, gain insight into their views on important questions with regards to the project aims, and receive input on potentially useful project outputs and forms of engagement.
Government and regulatory sectors were represented by the Acting Director of Public Communications in the Department of Public Communications, who is also Secretary of the National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring, the Principal Legal Officer at the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) and a Commissioner and Vice-Chairperson from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Media practitioners included the Editor-in-Chief of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, a Team Leader from Koch FM and representatives of religious broadcaster Hope FM. Additionally, a diverse group of media associations, active in media development, training, research and funding, participated in the workshop, including the National Co-ordinator of Community Radio Association of Kenya (CRAK), Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), Media Focus on Africa, Women’s Empowerment Link (WEL), African Media Initiative (AMI), Hivos Kenya Media Programme, School of Journalism at University of Nairobi, UN-Habitat and Ipsos Synovate.
Taking cue from opening remarks by representatives of the Ministry of Information and Communications, CCK and IEBC, participants noted an opening of media space has correlated with advances in the democratisation process, in particular suggesting there are indications that marginalised groups make use of interactive media, for instance through community radio, to hold political leadership accountable. However, they also raised concerns that the regulatory framework for interactive communications is inadequately developed – making social media in particular open to abuse.
A number of insights for PiMA were drawn from the discussion. Many stakeholders felt the mainstream media under-represent ordinary peoples’ opinions and priorities, and especially minorities, women and the youth. “Media is an agent of marginalization; and new media can also marginalise,” IEBC Commissioner, Muthoni Wangai, commented. A number of questions were raised. Is mainstream media doing justice to society’s diversity? What informs the choice of what to air? What informs media houses’ decisions to invite studio guests? Does interactive media lead to development of new knowledge? How do we measure the knowledge that people have acquired through interactive media? Who monitors media output, and why?
Koch FM Team Leader Tom Mboya recalled anecdotes from their work that underscored his belief that “the marginalised have power if given a voice”. “Just by going on air and saying this is illegal, we brought change,” Mboya said of their impact on corruption, impunity and insecurity concerns in Korogocho slum, Nairobi. IEBC Vice-chairperson Lillian Mahiri-Zaja told of how Nairobi-based Ghetto FM is another local radio station targeting the marginalised, giving them some element of “power to set political agenda”. AMWIK highlighted their role in empowerment through community radio listening groups.
Participants also hypothesised that there is some level of stratification in the use of interactive media, with women being marginalised. They suggested that in addition to conventional broadcast media, the project should consider interrogating the role of social media as growing hubs of interactivity, and include as many demography factors as possible.
Participants also noted that to catch up with the times, political and electoral institutions such as IEBC should make their communication systems more interactive. A case in point is the helplessness of many citizens who found themselves registered as members of political parties without their consent – but with no organisation accountable or responsive to them on the matter.
The workshop concluded with stakeholders confirming their willingness to assist in the project’s knowledge generation objectives and activities. The PiMA team will organise a second, similar platform of stakeholders for information sharing and learning later in the project lifecycle.
The meeting was chaired by PiMA country Co-Investigator, Prof Winnie Mitullah of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi and PiMA’s University of Cambridge Research Associate, Dr Fred Mudhai, with the help of Kenya-based PiMA Research Assistants, Sammy Mwangi and Moses Maina. Including PiMA and IDS staff, the meeting attracted 24 participants.