THE East African Community (EAC) media landscape is set to further flourish, following the launching of the East Africa Press Councils (EAPC), an umbrella body bringing together media regulatory authorities within the region.
The main objective of the EAPC, which draws its membership from media and press councils in the EAC Partner States, is to promote and protect free, independent, professional and accountable media in East Africa. It was launched recently by the EAC General, Dr Peter Mathuki.
In a speech read on his behalf by the Director Social Sectors at the EAC Secretariat, Dr Irene Isaka, prior to the launch ceremony at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha, Dr Mathuki expressed hope that the coming into being of EAPC would lead to a more free, independent and vibrant media that will in turn promote the tenets of democracy, social justice and respect for human rights across the entire EAC region that now stretches from the East to the West Coast of Africa.
Dr Mathuki said that independent and professional journalism is the cornerstone of any democratic dispensation, without which freedom of expression is jeopardised and so are the basic rights of members of society.
“A vibrant media is essential for the attainment of social justice, rule of law, accountability, equality and protection of human and peoples’ rights. The wider society loses out when the media cannot do its work independently and professionally as channels of free expression are strangled and public interest information is stifled, including through deterioration of investigative journalism,” said the Secretary General.
“Without robust, independent journalism, society, more so the weak, including women and youths, lose out as they have neither means nor relevant information to hold leaders to account and to demand what they are rightly entitled to,” added Dr Mathuki.
Dr Mathuki said that media regulation should therefore aim at enabling effective and accountable media in the service of the people. It should not lead to the strangling of media through undue control and over-regulation.
“When media regulators understand this and they come together in solidarity to champion the promotion of accountable and independent media, then a great stride has been made,” said Dr Mathuki.
The Secretary General said that the integration process in East Africa is supposed to be people-centred and market driven and so the media was key in taking the message of integration to the people at the grassroots who are the actual owners of the integration.
He said that it was crucial that media as a stakeholder in the integration ought to understand the process fully so that they can unpack it in simple language for the ordinary people, adding that empowerment of media on matters integration was therefore key.
Speaking at the event, Director of Information Services and Chief Government Spokesman, Mr Mohbare Matinyi, urged the media to take advantage of new technologies to educate and inform people on key issues that matter to them, be it cultural, political or economic.
Mr Matinyi, who spoke on behalf of Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology, Mr Nape Nnauye, said that the media industry is today undergoing unavoidable transformation due to the impact of technology on professional journalism, even as he cautioned against the use of digital media by individuals keen on promoting their own selfish interests.
Mr Matinyi expressed hope that through EAPC, East African media and press councils will find an ideal forum to share experiences and discuss regulatory issues in the region and advise their respective governments and media houses on how to achieve the objectives of having free, independent, professional, ethical, accountable, patriotic and responsible media.
On his part, the Chairperson of the EAPC and Executive Director of the Media Council of Tanzania, Mr Kajubi Mukajanga said that EAPC would work to strengthen and promote the institution of independent media regulatory bodies in East Africa, to create awareness and to promote the concept of self-regulation through Press/Media Councils as a viable option for holding the media accountable in the region while promoting media pluralism and diversity.
The EAPC Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Media Council of Kenya, Mr David Omwoyo.
Omwoyo said that the universalisation of media standards across the entire EAC region was critical if the media industry was to grow at a uniform pace and play its watchdog role effectively.
Mr Omwoyo said that it was challenging to have different media regulatory standards in the Partner States across the region.
In his remarks, the EAPC Treasurer and Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Media Commission, Mr Emmanuel Mugisha, disclosed that Rwanda was using media literacy to ensure that youths and members of the public are adequately prepared to use the media space especially the social media responsibly.