Community media groups, unlike mainstream private media, operate on different capacities and regulations, especially for community radios. Community media are bound by some principles that are widely held as guiding pillars, namely: community ownership, community participation, community service, non-profit business model and independence. To some large extent, these principles also apply to other community media groups such as newsletters and theater groups. As such, by the virtue of their establishment, community media should be able to address issues directly affecting grassroots communities in their areas of operation.
The impact/results realized out of engagements by community media groups largely depend on how their target communities, either geographical or communities of interest, interpret and react to the information generated. The impact is also enhanced on how well the various forms of community media are able to embrace diversity, full geographical reach and the benefits of media convergence and pluralism.
For a long time now, community radio have been identified and acknowledged by the legal and regulatory regimes in Kenya as the third tier of broadcasting along the public broadcaster and private radio stations. This was after a series of long drawn advocacy engagements by Kenya Community Media Network with other media stakeholders.
KCOMNET has now made another step ahead by bringing together other forms of community media groups on the same online platform known as Sikika.net. This platform is aimed at not only ensuring the inclusivity of community media, but also maximizing their impact. This will close the gaps of communication amongst various forms of community media and maximize benefits of collaborations. Their voices will thus be amplified far and wide through the production and dissemination of shared priority content that lead to transformative social change.
The mission of Sikika.net is towards achieving collaborations and engagements between community radios and other forms of community media groups. This is being done by promoting joint production, dissemination and marketing of shared priority content. The purpose of this platform is to aggregate and enhance the visibility of content produced by different community media groups to national and international levels hence addressing the question of coverage of different community media groups. For instance, community radios in different parts of the country have a combined reach of thousands of Kilometers unlike theatre groups and newsletters whose reach is limited to their areas of operation. Stella Kasura is an actress with Linda Arts Theatre Group in Narok county that specializes in magnet theatre. To her, partnering with neighboring community radio and newsletters in the county as well as dissemination of their content through Sikika.net has enabled them to beat the challenge of outreach of their theatrical productions reach by a huge margin.
“We believe we are now reaching a huge audience. Normally through magnet theatre, the audience would be small as opposed to the audience of the radio, newsletters and on Sikika.net. The same issues that we dramatized were also featured on Narok Lets talk newsletter and their online platforms. The content shared raised a lot of debates among citizens and leaders in the County.”
In Korogocho slums in Nairobi, Koch FM is the only community radio station serving a population of about 150,000 people. Before its establishment, there existed a community newsletter known as Korogocho Mirror that collapsed due to operational challenges. A new community newsletter known as Koch News has been set up by the area youth. Theatre groups are also in operation in Korogocho but due to challenges associated with low visibility, they have not been thriving so well. One such group is Kobokobo Theatre group that is now gradually growing owing to the partnership with Koch FM in the production of dramas and dissemination through the radio and sikika.net. Doreen Mwasi, the programs manager at Koch FM appreciates the immense potential that partnerships can do
“The best result for us is how people embraced our coming up with radio dramas. We have stayed for very long time without using radio dramas but when we started working with Kobokobo and playing radio dramas, we have seen people appreciating and even resonating with what we are talking about and everywhere we go, people talk about the dramas relayed. This means that people are listening to us more. Even the feedback we are getting from SMS and social media platforms shows that people are now appreciating and accepting radio dramas and given us diversity and ways of improving our content.”
Collaboration between Koch News community newsletter and Koch FM has also registered similar impact in the area.
This pilot project has shown that its initial design of addressing issues on transparency, accountability and good governance can also enable producers from different community media groups to pitch other ideas and content on other thematic areas of priority concern and interest in their target communities. These issues range from gender mainstreaming, domestic violence, social justice, terrorism and many community issues.
In the current times, it is necessary for all players in the media sector to take full advantage of media pluralism through the benefits of digitization. To date, community media still enjoys the privilege of having a higher plurality of voices through existence of diverse forms of community communication such as traditional theatre, folk music, puppetry, among others, to modern ones such as community radios and community TVs. It is these various forms of community media that Sikika.net is enhancing and amplifying their engagements towards the development of a better country and society for everyone.