Corruption, Climate change, identity politics, the missed big stories and the coverage of societal issues at personal levels dominated the media diet in the year 2019. The last year of the first decade of the 21st century was also characterised by the dearth of context in the media coverage of international stories and the growing disconnect between the people in power and the masses.

The inaugural Media Landscape Prediction Fireside Chat by the Aga Khan University’s Innovation Centre (Media Futures) looked back at the year that was as a basis for making 2020 predictions drew big name thought leaders from the industry and the academia, who engaged in a very illuminating discussion. That panel not only hailed the 2019 coverage of corruption and climate change issues, but also raised pertinent questions on the dearth of context and the contextualization of stories to speak to the Kenyans.

In a vibrant and enlightening discussion that brought together media stakeholders, and innovators drawn from the Media Futures community, the panelists underscored the fact that even though corruption, climate change, global problems and identity politics were given prominent coverage, the media focused more on incidences rather than context.

“Corruption was obviously the big story, but the real big stories were the missed stories. We reported incidences but failed to connect the dots,” said Catherine Gicheru.

Prof Levi Obonyo, the Dean School of Communication at Daystar University decried the dearth of context saying that “the frames that have been used to cover most of the big stories like the Mau Forest issues have essentially remained the same and stories have not been covered to the extent that speaks to individuals at their level.”

Prof Obonyo further noted that there were critical global issues and trends like the rise of the right wing in global politics, transitions of governments globally and the Donald Trump effect that ought to have been contextualised more to speak to what the average Kenyan is facing. He advanced the need for constructive journalism which he affirmed does not mean positive reporting, but a brand of journalism that addresses individual issues.

Whereas encouraging trends such as coverage of everyday societal issues like murder, crimes of passion, depression, suicides, poverty and clashes in families were lauded, the need for a more constructive approach was underscored.

In a chat that drew heightened intellectual engagements between the panelist and the audience, there was a near unanimous agreement that the media missed out on some of big stories in 2019. Dr David Omwoyo, Media Council of Kenya CEO, lamented the situation arguing that the biggest story in 2019 is “how we missed the big stories like the collapse of the world order, the weakening of the UN, struggling Universities, the American position, the collapse of the religious leaders and the emergence of saccos that can’t service loans.”

The emergent consensus called for the media to be constructive in providing context for the global and critical issues in the society and situate these issues within the growing disconnect between the people in power and the masses.

In a sneak preview of the year ahead, the fireside chat discussions seemed to have advocated for a more constructive approach to journalism. An approach that would connect the dots and contextualise issues to speak the marginalised audiences through the platforms they prefer. 

Dr Alex Awiti, Vice Provost Aga Khan University, East Africa and the Interim Dean Graduate School of Media and Communications, aptly underscored this, stating that for the media to overcome the challenges of 2019, “the focus must be on understanding audiences and providing content through the formats they prefer.” The advent of 5G technology, he notes, will offer “a real opportunity for immersive, engaged content, new business models and new revenue streams. We will be limited only by our capacity to innovate.”

About the Author

Author ProfileHesbon Owilla
Hesbon Hansen Owilla works at The Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications (GSMC) as the Research Associate. As part of the GSMC team at the Media Innovation Centre (Media Futures EA), Hesbon works with the team in researching innovations and Media Viability.

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