Local and regional media stakeholders are pondering the profitability and relevance of the industry amid an advent of digital technologies that has brought sweeping changes.
The stakeholders will convene today in Kigali for the National Media Dialogue that will seek to address challenges faced by the media.
The forum is organised under the theme, “Positioning African media in the digital era.”
The meeting comes amid concerns of the impact of the digital technologies to the profitability and relevance of media outlets.
The forum is organised by multiple stakeholders, including Rwanda Governance Board, Association of Rwanda Journalists, Media High Council, UNDP, among others.
In Rwanda and world over, the profits of media outlets have seen a dip largely owing to the growing popularity of digital technologies.
The popularity of online outlets at the expense of traditional media outlets has in turn seen a decrease in sales and advertisements, which are the primary sources of revenue for media outlets.
Among the outlets that have had to wrap up in Rwanda include Rwanda Focus, a weekly newspaper, Royal TV, which wrapped up operations two months ago, and KFM radio station, which was owned by Nation Media Group.
According to a concept note by the forum’s organisers, other issues on the agenda include looking at the necessary skills that journalists require to remain relevant in the new era.
“The advent of digital technology has brought sweeping changes in the media industry. These changes have profoundly impacted on the profitability of media businesses, leaving media platforms. Digital technology has also transformed journalism by breaching longstanding boundaries—between who is and is not a journalist,” the note reads in part.
In an interview last week, Gerald Mbanda, the head of media and communication at Rwanda Governance Board, told The New Times that trends indicate that reforms are required on a range of aspects, including gathering and dissemination of information to remain relevant.
“The media today is shifting from how it has been operating. It is no longer business as usual, the development of ICT is changing the production and consumption of the media. This means that whatever platforms have been used as well as gathering information requires us to be more present on digital platforms than we have been working before,” he said.
Mbanda noted that, among the aspects that have necessitated the change include the ICT facilitation in the country and availability of smart phones and gadgets.
“In Rwanda there is a lot of facilitation on ICT development, optic fibre is across the country and the entire country is connected. Television stations have since shifted from analogue to digital,” he said.
He said that the governance board provides about Rwf200 million annually to facilitate media outlets in various ways.
Mbanda said the state of affairs further requires training schools to revise curriculums to ensure that practitioners are adequately prepared for the new era.
“Media training schools curriculum ought to change, there is need to see that the journalism graduates can be relevant to work with the technology so that they can fit in. It has to be a holistic approach, also including programming,” he added.
Not all is gloom
However, it is not all gloom as the digital advent also bears opportunities such as reducing the cost of information gathering and dissemination.
Paul Ntambara, the director for media development at RGB, noted that there are also concerns of regulation to ensure that digital platforms continue to work under ethics.
For instance, the jurisdiction of regulation of media outlets that cover Rwanda but operate from other regions as well as citizen journalism, he said.
“The whole idea is that in the digital era there are opportunities and challenges, speed is much faster, the cost has gone down and easier for consumer to acces; however, what does that mean for business modules? There is also a challenge of regulation, for instance, how do you regulate media in the digital era? How do you regulate citizen journalism, jurisdiction of online media covering Rwanda from outside the country, online comments?” Ntambara posed.
In the pursuit of relevance, practitioners say that among the improvements they deem necessary in the new era is revolutionising packaging of content to remain relevant to consumers.
George Ndirangu, a television anchor and producer at CNBC Rwanda, noted that among the preconditions which the media are trying to get right include packaging content to capture consumers’ attention.
With multiple news and information platforms online, consumers’ attention is not always guaranteed as there are ‘endless’ options.
“A prerequisite right now is being precise and concise (packaging) trying to get people to get attention to your content because they could easily get distracted,” he said.
Ndirangu said that across the East African region, the pace to adapt to the new era is picking up albeit at a slow pace.
The process of studying consumer habits, he said, has also seen sections of the media keep some of their old traits although aware of the need for change.
“It is a work in progress, we are moving in an ‘alright pace’ but not as quickly. Papers understand that at some point they will not make money from print, but they are still printing because there are still those who prefer the print edition. Some things will take time to change while others will not change anytime soon,” Ndirangu said.
At today’s forum, outstanding journalists will be recognised across the various categories with awards that include cash prizes.
The Development Journalism Awards are organised by RGB and its partners with an objective of enhancing professionalism by awarding best-performing journalists.
Over 40 awards will be presented for the various media forms, including print, online, radio and television.
To qualify for the awards, journalists were required to submit their best works in respective categories that run between July 1, 2016, and August 30 this year.
The entries were reviewed by a panel of judges comprised of people knowledgeable in the sector including lecturers, media relations staff, among others.
Mbanda said that in some categories, they opened up for public opinion from media consumers.
This is the fifth edition of media annual awards.
“The awards are an encouragement and appreciation for people to keep being professional, ethical and continue to excel in the sector. The awards will create a spirit of competition and enhance professionalism,” Mbanda said.
This year’s awards also feature special categories such as ICT development, anti-corruption, service delivery among others.
Part of the events is the ceremony to mark the African Day of Information, which was established to give importance to Africa’s voices in telling Africa’s story.