Ideas & Debate

Kenya needs robust media policy to boost democracy

idea-pic

Summary

  • The media is regarded as an integral pillar of a country’s governance system.
  • The government is putting in place a robust policy to guide the media sector and ensure that the laws developed for the sector speak to it.
  • The enactment of the Constitution in 2010 bequeathed the country a new foundation where freedom of the media and expression are guaranteed.

A country without robust and free media will, over time, have its democratic credentials undermined and degraded, simply because the gatekeepers are not given the necessary space to play their critical role. That is why the media is regarded as an integral pillar of a country’s governance system.

As a government, therefore, we take media freedom very seriously as seen in the various interventions it has extended to the sector and its commitment to strengthen media freedom, enhance independence, build media capacity and establish a regulatory framework that cultivates professional accountability.

In addition to the passing of the Media Council Act 2013, Kenya Information and Communication Act 2013 and the Access to Information Act 2016, the government is putting in place a robust policy to guide the sector and ensure that the laws developed for the sector speak to it. The last comprehensive media policy was developed over a decade ago vide Kenya Gazette Notice 12071 of November 13, 2009.

The enactment of the Constitution in 2010 bequeathed the country a new foundation where freedom of the media and expression are guaranteed. This was happening after a decade of rapid media liberalisation and convergence. This was soon followed by the digital switchover in the broadcasting sector that birthed many new players and saw the emergence of media conglomerates.

We must continue building on this foundation. As a government, we remain committed to upholding media freedom, which is central to a functioning governance system. An open and free media facilitates imparting of information, ideas and knowledge. The media also acts as a counter-balance to the other arms of government.

It is an oft-stated fact that the citizenry’s worldview is arguably influenced more by the media than by our personal experiences. We rely to a large extent on the media to inform and educate on myriad issues of politics, culture and other socio-economic indicators. That is how important the media is.

This is what drives the need for a comprehensive and updated policy that is in keeping with the times.

The media policy is underpinned by eight key principles namely: media as a public trust; freedom of the media; independence of the media; media diversity and pluralism; professional media; universal access, especially of the disadvantaged; public accountability; and media and information literacy.

Currently, media issues are considered under various pieces of legislation including The Media Council Act 2013, Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013, Copyright Act 2001, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act, 1988, Film and Stage Plays Act1962 and Kenya Communications Act 1998. We acknowledge the need to review most of these laws in line with the fast-changing media landscape.

In the last 11 years, there have been massive changes in the media landscape.

Today, the media landscape is almost synonymous with technological innovation. Digitalisation is the driving force behind media expansion.

It is against this background that I established a task force on media reforms so that they develop a comprehensive and futuristic media policy that will help actualise and contribute to the political, economic and social pillars of Vision 2030 and values and principles as enshrined in the Constitution.

It is expected that the new policy will cover the various mass communication media and services operations available in Kenya and how they may be regulated. Specifically, it will cover print, electronic, film and digital media as well as media services, including public relations, advertising and wire services.

Having a media policy that addresses emerging trends in the sector will promote a pluralistic, diverse, professional, independent, publicly spirited and self-sustaining media whose role Is to inform, educate and entertain across different segments of our society.

In addition, it will set a framework that ensures freedom of expression and enables journalists, media practitioners, media owners and users of media services — advertisers and public relations practitioners, among others — to operate independently and responsibly. It will also identify the core regulators and spell out the contours they will follow as they exercise their regulatory functions.

Broadly, the policy will seek to promote and defend the overall public interest for the public and common good of all Kenyans.

The constitution of a Task Force on the Kenya Media Policy Guidelines by the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs is a timely move to address these issues and put our media operations at par with global standards.