13 February 2017

Africa: ICT Signals the Cradle of Radio's Rebirth

Nairobi — Over the last few decades, radio has played an important role in the realm of 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 World War I 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 twentieth century. The World Wide Web a much bigger technological breakthrough dwarfs the historical positioning enjoyed by radio in the last century. Many have even argued that the internet has swallowed much of radio's territory and will soon preside over its farewell party.

In the contrary, 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.

Kenya continues to experience growth in the ICT sector and has a growing number of broadcasting stations. According to the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) mobile penetration stands at 88 percent while its internet penetration is the highest in Africa at 68 percent.The increase in internet bandwidth capacity has bolstered the growth in internet connection and of mobile subscriptions. There exists an upward trend with mobile handsets not only becoming the medium for communication but also for accessing other value added services like data and internet, entertainment, mobile money transfer as well as radio.

As Kenya joins the world in celebrating World Radio Day on 13th February 2017, stakeholders in the media industry have so far viewed ICT not as a threat but as an opportunity. An agent that will propel radio to the next level.

Considering that the combination of the 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 being utilized covering all major towns and rural audiences.

As Kenya joins the world in celebrating World Radio Day on 13th February 2017, stakeholders in the media industry have so far viewed ICT not as a threat but as an opportunity. An agent 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 to achieve some of effectiveness in the context of sustainability.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) is currently running a program "Empowering Local Radios with ICT" which aims to bridge the gap between the poor - especially women and girls - and the community to debate on issues of public concern. The program not only trains community radio station staff on the use of ICT but also runs a series of capacity-building activities in local radio stations to improve station programming quality and help increase the geographical range of news coverage with a network of correspondents.

Many stations currently 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, urbanization and a large generation of tech-savvy youth is already driving up the internet's contribution to Africa's GDP. The current estimates show that by 2025 this contribution to GDP could grow to at least 5 to 6 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 underway.

Ann Therese Ndong Jatta is the UNESCO Representative and Regional Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

Dr. Haron Mwangi is the CEO, The Media Council of Kenya.

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