Author: Jackie Christie, April 20 2016 - Working together, BBC Media Action and the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) have transformed a shabby studio into a HD home for KBC’s flagship politics programme, Beyond the Headlines.

I think it’s fair to say that the development community has a tendency to overuse the ‘p’ word. I’ve seen it used to describe a variety of relationships, however slender or remote. My experience of working with Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) over the last few years would suggest that occasionally, these relationships earn the description of a true partnership.

We had worked with KBC for two seasons, when they broadcast BBC Sema Kenya, a groundbreaking political debate show which helped people ask their leaders questions, and in doing so, help hold them to account. During this collaboration, staff at KBC benefited from exposure to new production techniques, among them, moderating debates and developing compelling scripts.

Both sides felt that if our capacity strengthening was to come to fruition KBC should produce their own show. One year later, and without fanfare, the first show Beyond the Headlines aired on KBC Channel 1.

The new programme isn’t Sema Kenya and was never intended to be. It is KBC’s own flagship politics show designed to help audiences understand some of the key issues behind the stories which make the headlines. During the month of pilot programmes the show’s producers demonstrated they weren’t afraid of tackling sensitive content. Themes included corruption, police reforms and security one year on from the Garissa attack where 148 people died after gunmen stormed a university in northern Kenya.

A studio fit for purpose

As exciting as the pilot was, we quickly realised the show would need a permanent home. The one suitable studio at KBC was already operating beyond capacity. So we had no choice but to look again at a scruffy former radio studio, home to an increasingly decrepit piano and little else. It didn’t even have mains power. Engineers who had been at KBC for decades couldn’t tell me when it was last used as a studio – instead of its usual guise as a makeshift staff chapel

It was going to be a considerable undertaking to turn this shabby space into something that could house a live show. A broadcast engineering consultant provided me with schematics for video, talkback, sound and data. It was a blizzard of wiring, converters and electrical engineering. I hoped if I stared at the diagrams long enough a picture of a studio would appear.

Sparking a national conversation

The consultant gave me a long list of work which KBC had to undertake: everything from installing air conditioning and power to fitting a carpet.

Throughout the whole nerve-racking period, KBC upheld their side of agreement and contributed significant time, manpower and funds. As a result, a long- neglected corner of the KBC buildings is now their first HD studio.

I’m happy KBC has a new show to help spark a national conversation about politics in the run-up to Kenya’s elections in 2017, and that we have a partnership that matters.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Kenya.
Image credit/caption: BBC Media Action, "Joseph Warangu, Sema Kenya presenter with Jacob Kioria, Beyond the Headlines presenter at a debrief session"

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