The radical restructuring of the Pan African News Agency (Pana) has hit
a snag with the agency shutting down its bureau in Nairobi, Kenya amid
reports of a similar plan for its stations in Johannesburg, South
Africa and Accra, Ghana, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

According to the April edition of Kenya’s media news magazine, Expression Today, which has been relaunched after close to a year off the newsstands, all Pana journalists based in Nairobi were axed without benefits, except for bureau chief Tervil Okoko, who was moved to its head office in Dakar, Senegal, to head the English Service.

It quotes one journalist saying officials from Pana headquarters visited them late last year and announced plans to shut down the bureau due to financial constraints. Most writers were freelance stringers, leaving them with no recourse against retrenchment.

Nairobi, as well as Abidjan, Johannesburg, Accra, Cairo, London, New York, Paris, Tunis and Yaounde were some of the stations either created or upgraded to bureaus as part of a far-reaching and ambitious programme whose key aim was to prepare it for privatization.

Pana sought to consolidate its editorial independence in order to boost its credibility and prepare it to embark on an aggressive marketing of its products as the premier source of reliable information on Africa.

Observers have pointed out that the changed political and media environment made radical change for the troubled agency essential.

To survive the competition, Pana was also forced to venture into new areas, including extensive use of the internet and the launch of its own satellite telecommunication network, through use of Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology, covering the entire continent and 75 other countries in Europe, America, the Arab world and Asia.

But the decision to close the Nairobi bureau and plans to shut down others could be an indication that it has failed to shed off its traditional media character to compete in a new media environment, despite the major investments put into its recovery programme.

Officially launched in 1983 by the defunct Organisation of African Unity , the agency operates a general news service, as well as weekly specialised reports based on events in Africa as well as in the fields of arts and culture, economics, environment, science and health and sports, among others.