ICT signals the cradle of radio’s rebirth

Monday February 13 2017

Tiwi residents listening to the radio to catch up with the results after casting their votes during the 2013 General Election. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Residents of Tiwi, Kwale County, listening to the radio to catch up on the results of the 2013 General Election. FILE PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ANN THERESA NDONG-JATTA
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By HARON WACHIRA
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Over the last few decades, radio has played an important role in development. It has enabled the distribution of information on new policies, technology, products, and ideas, with the potential of stimulating growth and development, largely in rural Africa.

Radio acquired the capacity to reach a mass audience in the period following the First World War and grew steadily to become a powerful medium of communication. In just a couple of decades, it would equal, and eventually overtake the newspaper in popularity.

In the long term, radio also grew from being a mere source of war propaganda and entertainment to being a credible source of news for all sectors of society.

With the coming of the information age, however, reference to radio with regards to communication has dropped drastically with few people today appreciating the impact the advent of radio had in the 20th century. The World Wide Web, a much bigger technological breakthrough dwarfs the historical positioning enjoyed by radio.

Many have even argued that the Internet has swallowed much of radio’s territory and will soon preside over its farewell party. But Kenya’s case depicts a fruitful collaboration between radio broadcasting and one of the fastest growing information and communication technology sectors in Africa.

The capacity for radio to disseminate programmes to audiences beyond its attributed frequencies has been enhanced.

ACCESS INTERNET

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) mobile penetration stands at 88 per cent, and the Internet at 68 per cent. The increase in Internet bandwidth capacity has bolstered the growth in Internet connection and mobile subscriptions. Phones are also used to access data and Internet, mobile money transfer as well as radio.

Considering that mobile phones and the Internet have the potential to disrupt the traditional role of radio, it is interesting to note that radio is still popular in Kenya. Out of 372 radio frequencies allocated by CAK, 233 are used to cover major towns and rural audiences.

As Kenya joins the world in celebrating World Radio Day on Monday, the media industry views ICT not as a threat but as an opportunity that will propel radio to the next level.

The Media Council of Kenya stands for a vibrant, dynamic and responsible media space and has thus continued to engage with radio stations on how ICT can be harnessed for sustainability.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) is running a programme, “Empowering Local Radios with ICT”, which aims to bridge the gap between the poor — especially women and girls — and the community to debate issues of public concern.

INCREASE NEWS COVERAGE

The programme trains community radio station staff on the use of ICT, and runs capacity-building activities to improve programming and help increase news coverage with a network of correspondents.

Many stations run popular and highly interactive social media platforms, which complement their messages on the airwaves. A robust ICT regime has given way to citizen journalism and enhanced the participation of the audience in content generation.

Even as ICT reverses radio’s century-old sender-receiver rules, adapting to the new environment requires facilitation and close monitoring so that no one is left behind. Indicators seem to be pointing at future growth, urbanisation and a large generation of tech-savvy youth is already driving up the Internet’s contribution to Africa’s GDP.

By 2025 the contribution to GDP could grow to at least five to six per cent, matching that of leading economies such as those of Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. With radio tagging on ICT’s coat tail, the boomerang effect is already under way.

Ms Ndong-Jatta is the Unesco representative and regional director of the Regional Office for Eastern Africa, [email protected] Dr Wachira is the CEO, Media Council of [email protected]