Affairs

Newspapers

Africa’s media landscape— Nairobi

Preface

It is hard to find anyone in Kenya who doesn’t buy a newspaper. From security guards to CEOs, newspapers are read voraciously, from cover to cover.

Media, News, Society

19 March 2010

It is hard to find anyone in Kenya who doesn’t buy a newspaper. From security guards to CEOs, newspapers are read voraciously, from cover to cover. None is more popular than the Daily Nation, which this week celebrated its 50th birthday.

Owned by the Aga Khan, Nation Media Group (NMG) is one of Africa’s biggest media houses. In Kenya it also publishes the pink-sheet Business Daily as well as owning a popular television network, NTV. Its influence spreads across East Africa with the Daily Monitor in Uganda, The Citizen in Tanzania and its cross-border publication, The East African. The group is also considering expanding into Rwanda, a move that could revolutionise media in a country often accused of stifling independent voices.

NMG sought to capitalise on its growing pan-African profile by marking its 50th birthday with a conference in Nairobi this week looking at the future of the media on the continent. Leading editors including Zimbabwe’s Trevor Ncube, Nigeria’s Dele Olojede and Burundi’s Alexis Sinduhije, as well as new media aficionados such as Ory Okolloh and Daudi Were, have been giving talks and hosting sessions mapping out Africa’s way forward.

Among the ideas discussed were the need for an “African Al Jazeera”, new training colleges for journalists, and problems with funding, which have stifled media projects across the country.

Being a journalist in Africa is not an easy job. The pay tends to be poor and in some countries journalists are regularly offered brown envelopes stuffed with cash when they turn up at press conferences. In times of crisis, such as Kenya’s post-election violence in early 2008, those who criticise powerful figures can find their lives in danger. Several Daily Nation journalists, as well as many from the other main papers too, had to leave the country after receiving death threats.

The Daily Nation was launched in 1960, three years before Kenya won its independence. A glance through the Nation’s archives is a better introduction to Kenya’s turbulent history than any book. A series of front pages and iconic photos from the newspaper’s archives have been put on display at the conference, from the country’s independence in 1963 (“Kenya Free!”) to the US embassy bombing in 1998 and the post-election violence which ripped the country apart in 2008 (“Save Our Beloved Country!”).

The paper has its critics. Too often its news pages dwell on the minutiae of Kenyan politics – the ups and downs and ins and outs rather than the policies and ideas. During the 2007 election it was accused of being too close to President Mwai Kibaki, while its main rival, the Standard, was similarly accused of being too pro-opposition.

Like most media in Kenya it has also been slow to trumpet the country’s success stories. International media, including Monocle, wrote about Ushahidi, the online crisis platform born in Kenya and now used from Gaza to Haiti, long before it appeared on the pages of the Nation.

But it remains Kenya’s most influential newspaper, boasting some of the country’s best journalists and columnists. In Gado it also possesses one of Africa’s sharpest political cartoonists. And while daily sales hover between 100,000 and 150,000 there is a culture of sharing in Kenya, which sees each copy is passed around family members and work colleagues.The rise in internet readership of the Nation is beginning to change reading habits, but whether it is posting links on Facebook or passing a physical copy to a friend, the Daily Nation is likely to be passed around for many years to come.Steve Bloomfield is Monocle’s Nairobi correspondent.

Owned by the Aga Khan, Nation Media Group (NMG) is one of Africa’s biggest media houses. In Kenya it also publishes the pink-sheet Business Daily as well as owning a popular television network, NTV. Its influence spreads across East Africa with the Daily Monitor in Uganda, The Citizen in Tanzania and its cross-border publication, The East African. The group is also considering expanding into Rwanda, a move that could revolutionise media in a country often accused of stifling independent voices.

NMG sought to capitalise on its growing pan-African profile by marking its 50th birthday with a conference in Nairobi this week looking at the future of the media on the continent. Leading editors including Zimbabwe’s Trevor Ncube, Nigeria’s Dele Olojede and Burundi’s Alexis Sinduhije, as well as new media aficionados such as Ory Okolloh and Daudi Were, have been giving talks and hosting sessions mapping out Africa’s way forward.

Among the ideas discussed were the need for an “African Al Jazeera“, new training colleges for journalists, and problems with funding, which have stifled media projects across the country.

Being a journalist in Africa is not an easy job. The pay tends to be poor and in some countries journalists are regularly offered brown envelopes stuffed with cash when they turn up at press conferences. In times of crisis, such as Kenya’s post-election violence in early 2008, those who criticise powerful figures can find their lives in danger. Several Daily Nation journalists, as well as many from the other main papers too, had to leave the country after receiving death threats.

The Daily Nation was launched in 1960, three years before Kenya won its independence. A glance through the Nation‘s archives is a better introduction to Kenya’s turbulent history than any book. A series of front pages and iconic photos from the newspaper’s archives have been put on display at the conference, from the country’s independence in 1963 (“Kenya Free!”) to the US embassy bombing in 1998 and the post-election violence which ripped the country apart in 2008 (“Save Our Beloved Country!”).

The paper has its critics. Too often its news pages dwell on the minutiae of Kenyan politics – the ups and downs and ins and outs rather than the policies and ideas. During the 2007 election it was accused of being too close to President Mwai Kibaki, while its main rival, the Standard, was similarly accused of being too pro-opposition. Like most media in Kenya it has also been slow to trumpet the country’s success stories. International media, including Monocle, wrote about Ushahidi, the online crisis platform born in Kenya and now used from Gaza to Haiti, long before it appeared on the pages of the Nation.

But it remains Kenya’s most influential newspaper, boasting some of the country’s best journalists and columnists. In Gado it also possesses one of Africa’s sharpest political cartoonists. And while daily sales hover between 100,000 and 150,000 there is a culture of sharing in Kenya that sees each copy is passed around family members and work colleagues.

The rise in internet readership of the Nation is beginning to change reading habits, but whether it is posting links on Facebook or passing a physical copy to a friend, the Daily Nation is likely to be passed around for many years to come.

Monocle 24

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