The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has set up a team to review the activities of media associations and support groups. This comes at a time when media regulation globally is undergoing an epoch of intense debate and interrogation whether journalists and the practice of journalism will serve societies or State interests.
Contention has also emerged whether the current obsession of regulation actually protects public interests and the constitutional gains made in terms of freedom of the press, or seeks to block journalistic organisations and coalitions that will solidify independent journalism.
In this regard, MCK’s communique has to be interpreted in terms of content, intent and ramifications and how these serve the interests of a State keen on regulating the society, but is unaccountable whenever its conduct falls short.
First, the communique explains that “when seeking registrations with the Registrar of Societies and/or the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Bureau, these associations and groups are required to present a ‘Letter of No Objection” from the MCK as part of their application.
By writ of this requirement which is not gazetted in any law and any of the provisions of the Media Council of Kenya Act 2009, MCK has entrusted itself guarantor of media practice and the industry by extension.
This requirement also needs to be looked at from the position that associations and support groups have elected officials who have the trust of members. So, who really should be a guarantor of the other in matters of professional standards? Is there an assumption that only the MCK has capacity to interpret and abide by the Media Code of Ethics?
Second, the communique misses to address itself to the fact that it is unconstitutional.That is why associations of specialization in other professions; engineering, accounting, law or health, can and are formed without obtaining “Letters of No Objection” from their primary regulators.
The implication of this is to grow and not stifle specialization of practice. A regulator should not be the first obstacle rather,an enabler of professional practice.Furthermore, the current MCK composition is not elective, a process controlled by the State through the Ministry of Information and Communication.
They draw a substantive budget allocation from the State too. At what point does the MCK therefore exercise independence and autonomy in terms of working for the good of the media sector?
At what point will the MCK stand up against State excesses and defend the interests of journalists? Is the current MCK Board and Secretariat going to bury the right of journalists to enjoy freedom of association without necessarily seeking its objectives? The timing is suspect as Government austerity measures bite.
Could it be that MCK has to compete for funds? That playing gate keeper to funding opportunities is the new found strategy that will keep independent media associations, seen as a threat to MCK at bay?
Third, the communique claims that the MCK mandate to promote ethical and professional standards is going to “develop necessary structures and processes that will enable organised and collaborative interventions within the sector”.
Globally, the standard practice of bringing about industry consultation is to set up an inquiry led by a team usually seconded by associations and not appointed secretly by a state funded body like the MCK.
Such a review committee does not need to be a club of “eminent media professionals” as interpreted by the MCK but elected/seconded persons by media houses/groupings and associations. The terms of reference need not to drawn and decided by MCK but developed through a collective process that ensures a 360-degree view of the issue(s) is captured.
The terms of reference also need to be based on an industry-wide study that distills concerns and benchmarks the issues raised with appropriate references of incidences of breach of public trust and even complaints raised or cases ongoing in court.
The scope should be futuristic and inculcate analysis of big data trends in curating the practice, needs and operational scope of media groupings in future.
In conclusion, the MCK Communique, despite the good intentions, falls short of what media practitioners would expect from MCK in terms of structuring the inquiry on media associations and groupings.
MCK would do well to rescind this communique and start a collaborative conversation with stakeholders to obtain consensus from the wider sector.
Mr Wanyonyi is a specialist in Media, Foresight and War Studies and serves as the Chairperson of the Disaster Risk Reduction Network of African Journalist.
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