Power to the people

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John Bond reports on the Kenyan TV company which is spurring communities into action.

Bedan Mbugua’s commitment to change-making has seen him imprisoned twice. And now he is pioneering a radical approach to broadcasting.

A well-known Kenyan journalist, his first prison conviction came for exposing rigging in the 1988 Presidential elections, his second for exposing bribery in Kenya’s judiciary.

Today, thanks to the struggle of people like him, media freedom has grown. And Bedan rose to become a General Manager in Kenya’s largest private media organisation, establishing nine radio stations, a TV network and a newspaper.

But this did not satisfy him. ‘One day I thought, why does the media miss out on so much good news? If you watch a TV story that inspires you to get involved, that gives you power. We need this power if we are improve our society.’

He found financial backers and Fountain Media was born. Soon he had a team of journalists, presenting a variety of TV programmes with a focus on creative community action.

Kenyan men were dying in large numbers from adulterated alcohol known as ‘illicit brew’. To combat this some women started Mothers Against Drug Abuse (MADA). Fountain Media helped them organise large demonstrations in six of Kenya’s 47 counties, and publicised the response. Before long President Kenyatta ordered the police to crack down on the brew-makers.

Now Fountain Media is working with MADA to establish community rehabilitation centres. ‘We encourage communities to come up with their own solutions instead of relying on the government,’ writes journalist Johnson Mwakazi.

They are also tackling bribery in Kenyan commerce. Fountain Media offers publicity to businesses that refuse to pay bribes.

Those who sign up are interviewed on TV, and the interviews have proved popular with viewers. So far over 500 businesses have signed up. And the community is an ever present watchdog, ensuring these businesses do not backtrack on their pledge.

Then they turned to the universities, arranging debates on corruption. These debates also made good TV, and introduced Fountain Media to students with the skill and commitment to fight for integrity. Now a network is growing, and 300 young Kenyans who are fighting corruption meet every month with Fountain journalists.

Their latest venture is a national festival aimed at overcoming inter-ethnic tensions.

Photo credit: CAUX-IofC Foundation