Public broadcaster Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) is set to be split into two companies, according to proposed recommendations contained in the draft National ICT Policy, in a move geared at separating its public information role and commercial interests.
The state-run broadcaster will have two independent divisions – public and commercial. The public arm will focus on its public role of ensuring Kenyans have access to information.
The broadcaster runs KBC Channel 1 TV station, KBC Radio Taifa and English service and a host of vernacular radio stations across the country. These platforms currently rank poorly among private competitors nationally. KBC TV, for instance, ranks 5th after Citizen, KTN, NTV and K24 in that order. Its two national radio stations are no better, with KBC Swahili coming 4th after Radio Citizen, Radio Jambo and Radio Maisha.
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KBC Managing Director Waithaka Waihenya says the move is aimed at making the corporation more competitive while protecting its role of informing the public without making a profit.
“The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) will be restructured to ensure its relevance and viability as the public broadcaster,” reads part of the ICT policy. “KBC may also establish a subsidiary to provide commercial broadcasting services subject to fulfillment of licensing and regulatory requirements.”
Mr Waihenya told Business Daily that although KBC is a commercial entity that is supposed to be making profits, the current law has limited this opportunity through a requirement that the corporation first focus on its key role as a public broadcaster.
This has seen it offer services even in areas that are considered commercially unviable, making it difficult to compete with its peers in the industry in terms of talent, since it cannot match what competitors are offering staff.
The proposed policy will, however, now provide the corporation with a legal muscle to create a full-fledged commercial arm. This will be a major boost for KBC which can now run commercial programmes to compete private broadcasters that compete mainly on popular programming.
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If adopted, the proposal will see KBC’s FM stations such as Coro, Pwani and Metro FM transferred to the commercial unit. But as KBC has learnt to its sorrow, commercializing radio and TV is not easy.
It flirted with Metro TV, which closed after failing to attract advertising for its entertainment programmes, mostly music and movies. Its commercial entertainment radio station Metro FM also failed miserably and even underwent a rebrand to Venus with a focus on women, but that too did not strike a chord. It was forced to return to Metro FM before going off air.
KBC English Service and Radio Taifa will, however, remain under the public service. “Currently, although some of our vernacular stations may be classified as commercial, this is not well grounded in the law,” Mr Waihenya said.
Information Cabinet Secretary Joseph Mucheru said the draft policies will have to undergo public scrutiny before they are forwarded to the Attorney-General and then to the National Assembly before it is enacted into law.