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Tuesday, 29 December 2009


Tired of watching snippets of interesting news features on TV? Feeling short-changed by reporters rushing through weighty matters? Annoyed by disjointed news angles?

That is what you are likely to continue experiencing in Kenya, as the mainstream channels contrive to have more and more entertainment oriented programming in their menu.

You can hardly sustain any effort to have news allocated more time if the TV ratings only seem to spike, when certain programmes are on air at certain times.

And when news comes into direct opposition with programming for prime time, the one that brings in more revenue to the station is guaranteed to prevail.

The keen uptake of local productions and the lessons learnt from always insisting on buying ready-made foreign programmes, to save cost, should however not be lost.

But other than concede defeat, news producers should rethink and even rebrand their product so as to continue with the very essential role of engaging the audience in pertinent issues apart from the momentary escapism accorded by entertainment programmes.

The case for news-based documentaries

It hardly makes economic sense for news stations to spend so much money daily, taking reporters and camera crews to various locations to capture stories of the day, only for the end product to be bulletins carrying news stories averaging 1 min 30 seconds each.

Or carrying longer stories only after dropping others, which the station incurred costs pursuing. Moreover, the amount of good footage that is only archived and never gets to be used on the day it is shot, can be both upsetting to the diligent cameraperson and the station's accountant.

Make no mistake about it though. The level of journalistic standards is quite high in the country. So why not put it to good use by facilitating a more robust use of material at the disposal of reporters and news producers?

And a good place to begin could be in the production of in-house news documentaries.

Many viewers have for example been following NTV's Joe Ageyo, in his consistent quest to put environmental issues high up in the public and governments' agenda, both locally and internationally.

Documentaries can sustain audience attention

If Ageyo could be allowed time and resources to produce his characteristic well-researched pieces and have them even in hour-long regular documentaries, chances are they a bound to be big hits.

              Joe Ageyo reporting from the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference

With aggressive marketing, it would not be that impractical to envision advertisers or sponsors wanting to cash in and so the revenue bit to warrant prime time allocation would not be an issue.

Even the often captivating investigative pieces by the likes of Denis Onsarigo, Mustafa Mwalimu, John Allan Namu and Mohammed Ali, could all be woven into spell-binding productions devoid of the rush to air and little time to bring out uncovered issues, that at times characterizes their current work.

I envision Ageyo producing an equivalent of ITV documentaries like Man on Earth that closely follows the history of climate change, or Robert Gichira capturing material fit enough to mirror the likes of BBC's Life, which conveniently is about wildlife.

Of course the level of funding of the UK productions, which compares favourably with the budget of some Kenyan ministries, cannot be expected locally, but such is my faith in our journalistic talent.

South African outfits like SABC have heavily invested in news-based documentaries like Special Assignment, and the results speak for themselves.

Just go through the list of past winners of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Awards, in the Television Features category, (Kenya sprung a surprise in 2009).

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