EDITORIAL: Professionalism key to fixing challenges afflicting local media

Media practitioners, owners, experts, policy-makers and other stakeholders yesterday met in Kigali for the 9th annual national media dialogue to take stock of the country’s progress toward building a vibrant media sector and deliberate on what needs to be done to revitalise the industry.

Media practitioners, owners, experts, policy-makers and other stakeholders yesterday met in Kigali for the 9th annual national media dialogue to take stock of the country’s progress toward building a vibrant media sector and deliberate on what needs to be done to revitalise the industry.

The event coincided with celebrations of Africa Day of Information and the Annual Development Journalism Awards, designed to celebrate outstanding work in the media and to inspire excellence among media practitioners.

Held under the theme, ‘Positioning African Media in the digital era’, the forum served as an opportunity for participants to share best practices on how to survive the challenges posed by the digital era and leverage the opportunities it presents.

Over the years, the Rwandan media has grappled with many challenges largely associated with a small private sector that is not keen on advertising and a population that barely reads newspapers.

But the media has also been dogged by self-afflicted problems. Fifteen years after Rwanda liberalised electronic media, many media outlets have mushroomed in the country.

But some have since folded, many citing financial constraints.

Yet, the truth of the matter is that few media organisations in the country are run as a business. From print media outlets to radio and television stations, media owners have struggled to break even, let alone grow. One of the biggest challenges is professionalism. Some people established media outlets without clear business plans, others practically set up briefcase companies where they are the owner, finance and marketing manager, reporter, photographer etc; all at the same time.

The situation only moved from bad to worse with the advent of digital age.

And this has also come with falling standards, further eroding public faith in the media and driving away potential advertisers.

All the while proposals have been floated in an attempt to salvage the situation. One of them is mergers. If multiple outlets merged resources, they would stand a greater chance of benefiting from economies of scale and overcoming or coping with the prevailing challenges.

Unfortunately, such advice – repeatedly offered during the annual media dialogue – has fallen on deaf ears.

Yes, the poor advertising and reading culture in the country constitute a major challenge. But the problems facing the media run deeper. They are largely internal. And the key to addressing them largely rests on the shoulders of media owners and practitioners. Professionalism and strategic thinking could come in handy.

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