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TV Girl: Why Kenyans love ‘yellow-yellow’ news presenters!

Even women viewers confessed they preferred female anchors as they got to learn of the latest fashion, make-up and hair trends

Forget me not: Citizen Television’s Lilian Muli is a favourite news anchor among male viewers in Kenya, but most confessed to easily forgetting the bulletin content afterwards.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Esssayist

Kenyan men of a certain age are likely to forget what they’re watching on prime time news if the anchor is a fetching beauty.  These men are also likely to skip watching news if the anchor is not the one they had mentally prepared to watch, the one who tickles their fancy.

A research project carried out in Nairobi on perception of television news anchors also revealed that majority of viewers prefer watching television if the news presenter is a cute ‘minji-minji’ with a high fashion sense.

This research revealed that among female anchors, women watch Betty Kyallo of K24 for new fashion and hair trends besides her bubbly personality. Men, on the other hand, prefer watching news starring Lillian Muli at Citizen TV for her beauty.

Up to this point, my fellow Kenyans, what the news anchor is presenting is not important.

In this state of affairs,  prime time news is no longer about the ‘what’ but ‘how’ content is presented in the battle of the beauty pageants starring brightly coloured lipsticks and eye shadows. 

For those presenters who cover up like Lulu Hassan, the male respondents in the research confessed to undressing her in their imagination and hence returning when she’s anchoring Kiswahili news at Citizen TV.

Two male presenters, even if they were Mr Kenya finalists, is a no-no, for most viewers

For these and other reasons, television stations in Kenya hardly hire a woman as an anchor if she is overweight. Or her pimpled complexion resembles the lunar surface. No matter how brilliant an interviewer a woman is and with good grasp of issues, she might not get the job if she can’t pass for a Sweet-16.

While both men and women in the study did not mind watching a woman co-paired with a male presenter, they also did not mind two women presenting like Citizen TV’s Lulu Hassan and Kanze Dena before she left for a new role as State House Spokesperson in 2019.

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Two male presenters, even if they were Mr Kenya finalists, is a no-no, for most viewers. Male anchors only scored highly due to their diction. Case in point is Johnson Mwakazi who’s masterly of language use and pleasant voice made him popular when he was at Citizen TV and where he still provides promotional voice-overs.  

Even women viewers confessed they preferred female anchors as they got to learn of the latest fashion, make-up and hair trends

Beauty with brains: Victoria Rubadiri attracts viewers from large demographics. But research shows Kenyan television stations deliberately employ “sex appeal  in news presentation to attract a larger youthful audience.”

Even women viewers confessed they preferred female anchors as they got to learn of the latest fashion, make-up and hair trends. Men, on the other hand, only have suits to choose from.

Female anchors thus now present news while standing is another hook for viewers, mostly men who size up their shapes, curves, cleavage and skin, while women viewers check out the flow of hair on their shoulders and how fitting their clothes are.

The research done at the University of Nairobi and titled ‘The Youth’s Perception of the Television News Anchors’ by Letty K’Okul in 2016, showed that Kenyan television stations deliberately employed “sex appeal  in news presentation to attract a larger youthful audience, increase their popularity and consequently that of their station.”

The idea of sexy news anchors was to tap into the large youth audience that did not find hard news attractive

Domestic pairing: Most viewers in Kenya prefer presenters of opposite gender presenting the news like the wife and husband duo of Lulu Hassan and Rashid Abdallah.

The stations which used sex appeal included KTN, K24, Citizen and NTV while KBC was deemed too old school: The presenters were found to be stiff and presented news while seated.

Sexy anchors complimented the use of effective strategies to enhance viewer experience including use of sexy sign language anchors, text scrawls, soundtracks, lighting, colour effects, viewer participants through social media, live interviews and inviting celebrities as guest news co-anchors.

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The only viewers who were not carried away by sexualized appeals of female anchors were men who saw Mzee Jomo Kenyatta ‘live live’. These old geezers watched news for content and knowledge, but appear to be in the minority.

The idea of sexy news anchors was to tap into the large youth audience that did not find hard news attractive to hold their attention. These audience forms a significant market segment that can be tapped and targeted my companies. Television stations can then charge for prime time advertisements targeting this youthful market and one way of attracting them was to use sex appeal for their raging hormones.

This is a far cry from the 1960s and 1970s when women were content to be housewives in what a patriarchal society. It was for years feared that news anchoring remain masculine as viewers would be put off by female anchors and reporters.

The three sex-appeal strategies female anchors use include; sexual gestures, suggestive dress codes and emotional connection to viewers 

Gold standard: Poaching Catherine Kasavuli from KBC lured viewers to KTN where her pretty face and sexy voice remained a hook for almost 20 years.

But studies carried out in the mid-1970s proved the opposite: viewers would welcome female anchors. At the time, Kenya had matronly female presenters at KBC when newscast was divided into news whose segment featured national, international, and local stories, before sports and weather forecast read by Nguatah Francis or Ayub Shaka.

Things changed in the 1990s when KTN opened shop as Kenya’s first private television station then owned by Jared Kangwana before later changing ownership. Poaching Catherine Kasavuli from KBC lured viewers to KTN where her pretty face and sexy voice and posture remained a hook for viewers for almost 20 years.

By 2013, a  survey conducted by African Woman and Child Features Service revealed that women journalists were more dominant as television news anchors at 74 percent compared to men at 22 percent.

Letty K’Okul in her research fished out the three sex-appeal strategies these female anchors used including; sexual gestures, suggestive dress codes and emotional connection to viewers.  

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 The news presentation is today also largely informal with anchors engaging viewers with light jokes, anecdotes, presenter-to-presenter banter and personalized sign offs in a trend former NTV anchor Larry Madowo, but now with the BBC explained as being a “shift from boring, impersonal news to interactive and engaging presentation.”

 K’Okul notes that “sexualized anchors are used to add sexual stimuli to news broadcasts despite the irrelevance of the content. It has become a form of some emotional attachment to the viewer’s using the shock technique.”

News anchors in the research concurred that looks mattered as did their dressing

Smoking hot: Jeff Koinange and Lillian Muli. Male anchors felt their female counterparts aroused interested not only for their sex appeal but also for being featured more in tabloid press, gossip columns and blogs.

Television stations are in on this strategy as they know viewers talk about presenters arousing curiosity and increasing traffic since “sex-appeal acts as an initial attention to lure the advertisement, which is referred to as the stopping power of sex,” notes K’Okul adding that physical appearance, make up, dressing, language use and educating viewers were factors that influenced youth viewership.

She writes: “These news anchors seem to be selling their popularity among the youth, which is to a great extent attributed to their sexualized news presentation” and some respondents argued that the physical appearance of the anchor showed the inner personality and their age mattered since “elderly ones were viewed as old school.”

News anchors in the research concurred that looks mattered as did their dressing “to represent their stations and win popularity with their presentation skills and looks” which was why stations hire wardrobe assistants and make up rooms with  make-up artists with female field reporters being exempted as most argued “they did not dress in any sexual manner and mentioned that their popularity could be attributed to the kind of news stories that they reported.”

Male anchors felt their female counterparts aroused interested not only for their sex appeal but also for being featured more in tabloid press, gossip columns and blogs. 

Pressure also came from the public. While they expected female anchors to have a certain body type and look sexual, the male anchors were expected to have a certain lifestyle and always be suited up…or else ratings would drastically plummet.

One anchor told K’Okul: “When I was applying for the anchoring job I had to send a sample tape of my self-presenting and apart from the experience that I had I had to look good on camera, I had to have a face that people would like.”

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