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Rescue public broadcaster from years of failure, unleash KBC’s potential

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua held discussions with Fu Hua, president of the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, on August 17.

The discussions centred on strengthening partnership with Kenya Broadcasting Corporation in media development, KBC reported.

We want to reboot KBC into a vibrant and objective agency in informing the people of Kenya,” the public broadcaster quoted Gachagua as saying.

The Deputy President tweeted that, “To support our development agenda through the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, we are exploring a partnership with the Chinese state media, Xinhua news agency, for good practices.”

The areas of partnership will include “data reporting, leveraging technology like artificial intelligence and other innovations to tell impactful stories.”

As we modernise KBC, collaboration with Xinhua will be a boost in transfer of knowledge and skills besides stories on economic opportunities in the two countries.”

It is exciting that revival of the public broadcaster has received the attention of the highest office in the land, the Presidency.

Technology transfer and learning from strategic partnerships are, of course, good points to pursue for repackaging KBC into a formidable media house. But there is more.

The public broadcaster is moribund – has been for years.

Parliamentary and other watchdog reports have over time documented in painful detail the journey of the corporation to its deathbed.

The latest report of the Auditor General on KBC for the year ending June 30, 2022, tabled in Parliament on June 7, reveals – like previous audits – a complex of litany of maladies that have reduced the corporation to a shell.

The management and board say they are doing their best in the face of low funding from the exchequer, fierce competition in a liberalised broadcast industry, and the disruptions of the Digital Age.

But the Auditor General points out multimillion-shilling contracts, partnerships, and procurements, and even hiring, at Broadcasting House on Harry Thuku Road that are shrouded in inexplicable opacity.

One major debt remains outstanding for, wait for it, 34 years, and has ballooned to more than Sh88 billion.

The picture that emerges from the audit is one of a run-down public institution staffed by hordes of tired, poorly equipped, and demoralised professionals who have long given up on the value of the work they do beyond a monthly pay cheque.

During the year under review the KBC Nakuru office had three staffers employed on permanent and pensionable terms. They spent Sh57,200 to run the office, yet collected only Sh34,820.

Two permanent and pensionable staffers in the Eldoret office made Sh17,710 in sales compared to Sh155,000 they spent on running the office. Kisumu has about 40 KBC employees who collected Sh3.9 million in sales. Running that office cost Sh11.4 million.

Overall, the auditor raises serious questions about KBC’s operations.

Years of state neglect of this critical institution that is endowed with massive resources and potential have taken their toll on its work to the point that KBC has repeatedly been declared technically insolvent.

Yet the corporation is rich with largely untapped resources that, once unleashed, could catapult it into one of the best public broadcasters in the world. It’s no exaggeration.

By its own record, for instance, KBC owns land across the country worth Sh12.8 billion. But the Auditor General found that “most of the corporation’s parcels of land remain unsurveyed and/or unfenced for safeguarding and lack ownership documents.”

The investments in technology, premises, and personnel that taxpayers have made on KBC over the years must not be left to go to waste.

Do we need state-owned media in the Digital Age of a liberalised economy? We do.

Article 34 (4) of the Constitution of Kenya provides for state-owned media that shall: “be free to determine independently the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications; be impartial; afford fair opportunity for the presentation of divergent views and dissenting opinions.”

The Constitution does not contemplate state-owned media as a mouthpiece of the holders of power.

Indeed, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act mandates KBC to “provide independent and impartial broadcasting services of information, education and entertainment, in English and Kiswahili and in such other languages as the corporation may decide.”

The state is a major provider and consumer of public information. It makes sense that government owns and runs media houses.

The government has promised to “modernise KBC.” That needs to be done now. And it is not rocket science to see exactly how.

See you next week!

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