Joe Mucheru Makes Case for Robust Media Policy in Kenya

It is expected the new media policy will cover the various mass communication media and services operation available in Kenya and how they may be regulated.

A section of the Kenyan journalists covering a Ministry of Education event in Nairobi. PHOTO: Ministry of Education

Joseph Wakaba Mucheru EGH is the current Kenyan Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information and CommunicationsA country without a 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 a key pillar of a governance system.

As a government, therefore, we take media freedom very seriously as seen in the various interventions we have extended to the sector and our 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 the laws developed for the sector speak to it. 

The last comprehensive media policy was developed in November 2009 vide Gazette No. 12071.

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 switch-over in the broadcasting sector that birthed many new players and saw the emergence of media conglomerates.

We must continue building on this foundation. As the 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. It also checks the other arms of government.

It is an often stated fact that the citizenry’s worldview is arguably influenced more by the media than by personal experiences. We rely to a large extent on the media to inform and educate on myriad issues of politics, culture and other socioeconomic 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 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 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, Kenya Information and Communication Act, Copyright Act, 2001, the KBC Act, 1988, Film and Stage Plays Act,1962 and Kenya Communications Act, 1998. 

We acknowledge the need to review most of the laws in line with the fast-changing media landscape.

In the past 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 the new policy will cover the various mass communication media and services operation available in Kenya and how they may be regulated. 

Specifically, it will cover print, electronic, film and digital media as well as media services such as Public Relations, Advertising and Wire services.

Having a media policy that addresses emerging sector trends will promote a pluralistic, diverse, professional, independent, publicly spirited and self-sustaining media whose role is to inform, educate and entertain across social segments.

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, PR 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.

The constitution of a task force on the Kenya Media Policy Guidelines by my ministry is a timely move to address these issues and put our media operations at par with global standards.

Joseph Mucheru E.G.H is the current Kenyan Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs