Last Friday, an event signalling a major policy shift in the regulatory framework of the media, broadcast and telecommunications industry took place, but its significance was lost in the heat of the ongoing election campaigns.
This was the swearing-in of the chairperson and members of the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal by Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu at the Supreme Court of Kenya Building in Nairobi.
Those appointed are myself as chairperson, a Senior Resident Magistrate and former Complaints Commissioner with the Media Council of Kenya; Ms Annette Nasiaki Okello, an ICT consultant; Dr Isaiah Kibet Cherutich, a broadcast journalist with 18 years’ experience in media, and public relations; and two advocates of the High Court of Kenya, Ms Janet Nasimiyu Wekesa, and Mr Ibrahim Maina Mutembei.
CONDUCT OF JOURNALISTS
The tribunal is established under Section 102 of the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2013 as the lead disputes settlement mechanism in the entire media, broadcast and telecommunications industry in Kenya.
Its jurisdiction includes the power to hear complaints against any publication or conduct of a journalist or media enterprise; to hear appeals against the decisions of the industry regulators, the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Media Council of Kenya; and complaints by any citizen who is aggrieved by an action or decision of licensees, who are telecommunications service providers under the Kenya Information and Communications Act.
It brings functional clarity in multimedia regulatory framework and will be vital in protecting the constitutional rights of telecom service providers and consumers to goods and services of good quality.
Article 46 of the Constitution guarantees consumers the right to goods and services of reasonable quality and to the protection of their health, safety, and economic interests.
It is, therefore, obvious that the tribunal has a fundamental role in promoting and ensuring orderly growth of the telecom sector due to Kenya’s emergence as a regional ICT hub and a pacesetter in innovative technology.
It is essential for telecommunications regulators to have an effective and efficient dispute resolution system since failure to resolve disputes quickly can limit competition, delay innovation and impede investment in the sector.
Granted, the media laws enacted by Parliament in 2013 did not gain stakeholder confidence and instead sought to limit media freedom, contrary to Articles 33 and 34 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
There is a need to address growing concerns on violation of ethical journalistic and professional standards.
But this has to be done in a way that promotes rather than restricts media freedoms.
There are concerns about heavy fines imposed by the Act against journalists or media enterprises.
The tribunal holds the view that the fines will not be automatically imposed.
The provisions allow for discretionary sentencing where the tribunal has been provided with statutory limits of an acceptable sentence for a breach.
It must weigh and decide based on the facts of a particular case, what would be a reasonable and appropriate fine.
In exercising discretion, the members will also be guided by the tenets of due process, the rule of law, impartiality, accountability and objectivity.
The task ahead is monumental and the members call upon the media industry and the public to support the tribunal to realise its mandate.
All should work together for the common goal of improved ethical and professional journalism based on excellent reporting, gender sensitivity and entrenchment of the basic principles of ethics and professionalism, which include the principles of fairness, accuracy, truthfulness and objectivity.
Mr Oketch is the chairperson of the Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal