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All players should share task of ensuring media accountability

By Wilson Ugangu | July 20th 2013

A key concern particularly for players in the media is that the proposed law aims at regulating content

The proposed Kenya Information and Communications (amendment) Bill has reignited debate on the value and role of State initiated and driven regulation of media and communications. The Standard has in an editorial already labeled this new legislation as “draconian laws to muzzle the media.

” A key concern particularly for players in the media is that the proposed law aims at regulating content, and ultimately this move has implications for media freedom. The other is that this law will tamper with the existing system of self regulation while bringing back the State as a key determinant of media accountability in the country. One of the dailies quotes the current director of the Media Council of Kenya saying that the drafters of this new law have conveniently ignored the input from stakeholders.

As this debate evolves, one question should stand out: why do we as a society want to regulate media and communications in the manner proposed in the draft legislation? Those speaking in the heat of the moment allege that the reason behind this legislation is to control the media and communications environment. If indeed, this is the trajectory of the proposed legislation then it should worry many of us. World over, societies are grappling with the question of media and communications reform. It should be added that many realise, just as we do that media reform is an important and relevant subject in this day and age.

However, the difference between us and many others is first, the motive behind our need to regulate and two, the approach we propose to manage regulation. In other societies, regulation is now increasingly seen as a form of control that should ideally work towards promoting public interest, and not to stifle the independence and or operations of the media. To effectively realise this, the motivation towards a system of regulation is not narrowly led by the State and its agents, rather it is an inclusive process that recognises and essentially draws from the diversities within a particular society.

Overall, the goal of regulation is seen as fostering diversity of expression, a media system that operates without fear or favor and contributes to the growth and employment within the sector. The tragedy with depending on legislation alone as a means of media accountability is that it leaves out the voices of others within society while constraining the democratic and social purposes of the media.

Our history and that of most African countries clearly shows how legislation as the sole means of media accountability has ended up being misused by governments to oppress and limit freedom of expression. In most cases, legislation has also mostly led to polarisation instead of fostering vibrancy in the media and communication sector.  The new information age, defined by an ever increasing sense of uncertainty and flux requires media accountability approaches that are flexible and more attuned to the social and technological transformations within societies. Unfortunately, legislation, particularly that which is heavily slanted towards securing the short term political interests of players within the state machinery cannot be flexible enough to address the dynamism of the new communication age.

Therefore, very specific questions must be raised regarding how government and laws drive and regulate the media, for the sake of securing public interests. We should as a country avoid the folly of upholding legislation as the end all and be all in regard to media accountability. The reason for this is simply that the changes in the media and communications environment continue to happen. It is for instance certain that in the years to come, we shall be confronted with an even more complex technological environment. Will our response be to write another law?  This is why the task of ensuring media accountability should be shared among the different players including the owners of media, citizens, civil society and government. Any new legislation on media and communications should ideally work towards defining and institutionalising a framework within which this can be realised.



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