The state of innovation and media viability in East Africa

Media houses globally are grappling with how best to produce quality content and remain financially viable in the wake of shrinking revenues, technological disruptions, the emergence of peripheral content creators, competition for advertisement revenues from big tech platforms, the COVID-19 pandemic and a myriad of other changes in the media ecosystem.

Despite these challenges, it is in the public’s interest that news media organisations produce quality content in a financially sustainable fashion. Media viability, which is, producing quality journalism in a financially sustainable way, is a growing area of focus.

The Media Futures East Africa Project, jointly implemented by the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications and DW Akademie, investigated the state of innovation and media viability in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The study analysed eight major variables: newsroom structure and resources, media ownership and business models, organisational capacity, innovation culture, journalism culture, financial trends and results, content quality and COVID-19.

The data was gathered via an in-depth survey of media managers and journalists from a total of 437 media houses in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania from 2020 to 2021.

Key highlights

East African media sector is considerably young. Save for the print news media organisations that are predominantly 11 years and older, about 60% of TV, radio, digital and multimedia platforms have existed for ten years or less.

A significant percentage of the region’s news media organisations (60%) are independently owned, especially in Uganda and Tanzania.

Commercial advertising was the top source of revenue used by most of the NMOs in East Africa across the sectors, while government funding was only used by a mere 6% of the NMOs.

Slightly less than 50% of NMOs had their journalists provided with access to the equipment and technology they need and access to training to stay current with journalistic techniques.

About half of the news media organisations in the three countries target the regional (in-country) market, that is, provinces, districts and counties.

Generally, news media organisations in the region rate themselves highly – at over 60% – as far as innovation is concerned.

Journalism quality – boiled down to editorial independence, sufficient and regular payment for newsroom staff, and good journalistic practice (e.g. fact checking) – was analysed against the NMOs’ financial trends.

Pressures on news media organisations are still present. In each country, the news media organisations agreed that in 2019, at least once, their journalists had been arrested or physically attacked due to journalistic work and verbally attacked.

The organisations also agreed that they had been compelled to publish or kill stories at least once in the same period due to business or political pressure. Ugandan NMOs recorded the highest number of such incidents, while Tanzania reported the lowest. From these reports, it is clear that efforts to enhance journalist safety are still needed, as are efforts to strengthen editorial independence.

Across the region, the pandemic had a negative impact on financial revenues. Additionally, there was a decrease in demand for advertising.

On a positive note, the pandemic positively impacted audience numbers. Most media organizations across the region reported increased audience numbers – likely reflecting the increased need for information during crises.

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