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Self regulation fronted as best platform for media in the region

Published on: 1-10-2014

The ideals of media self-regulation gathered rich and interesting reactions yesterday as regional media experts convened in Kigali to discuss Africa’s experience in setting up a functional media self-regulatory body.

The Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), a global campaign promoting good governance and ethical conduct in the media, defines media
self-regulatory systems as voluntary systems used by journalists and media owners to monitor and review journalistic performance to deal with complaints of the audience and to provide acceptable forms of revenue.

Wangethi Mwangi, the former editorial director of Nation Media Group (NMG), who moderated the discussion, said the mechanism have several advantages, including building public trust and a culture of accountability in the media.

“Self-regulatory systems, this is agreed world over, raise professional standards. They strengthen the social standing of journalism; they protect the media from government interference, and therefore, safeguard our independence,” Mwangi said.

“It reduces or minimises defamation lawsuits against the media. In Kenya, the judiciary system has a terrible reputation for awarding huge damages against media houses for defamation, which sometimes cripple small media organisations.”

In Kenya, a Bill now awaiting presidential endorsement will enable the Media Council to impose high fines on journalists who breach the code of conduct. It will be able, in its “extreme,” to de-register journalists so that they do not practice journalism.

Self regulation as a role for government

However, before the discussion on Africa’s experience in setting up a functional media self-regulatory body started, Robert Kabushenga, Vision Group (Uganda) chief executive, told The New Times that he is not a believer in self-regulation.

Kabushenga said self-regulation is a limited way of handling things because “regulation is the job of governments and government should regulate everybody – be it doctors, traffic, or any others because a third party’s presence is critical.”

“If, for instance, there is a dispute between one media house and another, how are you going to self-regulate? Look at issues of professional misconduct. There is a limit to how much self-regulation can do and, at some point, you need a third party, either courts or government, to deal with some of these things,” Kabushenga said.

“What happens when there is a problem of advertising and people are engaging in bad practices? What happens when you bring out materials that offend other people, for instance, children, or women, or like in Rwanda where there was an experience of ethnic violence? Who regulates those? It cannot be self-regulation because if I feel that I am exercising my freedom of expression, who are you to regulate me? You are just part of the industry.”

But he acknowledged that there can be some level of self-regulation but, ultimately, the authority “over how we do our business” is something that the government must exercise.

“We should agree on the rules and participate in setting the rules but, ultimately, our job as journalists is storytelling, then there is police, which keeps law and order, and there is the judiciary, which makes decisions on right or wrong,” he added.

“That is the way things happen in organised societies. In Britain, they have a press complaints commission, which is organised by the State. That is the standard that we should look at.”

Geo-political setting

John Bosco Mayiga, a media advisor with UNDP Rwanda, told the first session of the regional dialogue on media freedoms that the structure of self-regulatory bodies varies depending on the different political set ups in a country.

He said the cohesion of these bodies is shaped by the constant threat of state regulation. This “ironical” threat though, he said, is not entirely bad as it motivates efficient media self-regulation.

“We are not talking about a flawless system. We are not saying that self-regulation provides absolute protection for audiences against media excesses. There is room left for improvement,” Mayiga said.

The broad challenges that emerge out of the recognition that self-regulation is not an absolute guarantee for media freedoms, Mayiga said, include the example drawn from the case, in the recent past, of a British tabloid breaking all rules to get a perfect “salacious” story.

“The Conservative Government of David Cameron argued that since the self-regulatory system in the UK failed to detect and deal with the extent of the phone hacking scandal, it was a toothless system,” Mayiga said.

They called for a statutory regulatory system, he said. This debate, he added, has fundamental lessons for Africa, and one issue he drew from it is that the debate on self-regulatory systems “is more than just a search for proper remedies” but actually shoots from the perception about the effectiveness or lack of it, of self-regulation.

Courtesy of The New Times

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