Our country needs robust media policy - CS Joe Mucheru

ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

A country without a robust and free media will, over time, has 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 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 Access to Information Act 2016, the government is putting in place a robust policy to guide the sector and ensure the laws developed for the sector speak to it. The last comprehensive media policy was developed over a decade ago vide Gazette Notice 12071 of November 13, 2009.

The enactment of the 2010 Constitution bequeathed the country a new foundation where freedoms of the media and expression are guaranteed. This was happening after a decade of rapid media liberalisation and convergence. It was soon followed by the digital switchover in 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 us on a 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 — media as a public trust; freedom of the media; independence of the media; media diversity and pluralism; professional media; universal access, especially for the disadvantaged; public accountability; and media and information literacy.

Currently, media issues are considered under various pieces of legislation, including Media Council Act, 2013, Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Act, 2013, Copyright Act,2001, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Act, 1988, Film and Stage Plays Act,1962 and Kenya Communications Act, 1998. We acknowledge the need to review most of these laws in line with the fast-changing media landscape.

It is expected that the new policy will cover the various mass communication media and service 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.

The writer is Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs