The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) recently published a Code of Conduct for Digital Media Practitioners. It was long overdue.
We live in an era when a seconds-long video clip can ignite a national debate and shape public opinion overnight. To put things into perspective, let me take us back to the TikTok saga.
A few days ago, a petition was tabled in parliament seeking to ban use of TikTok in Kenya. The petitioner, identified as Bob Ndolo, an executive officer at the Briget Connect Consultancy, posited the ByteDance-owned app was a threat to our cultural and religious values.
Ndolo argued TikTok was exposing our children to explicit content, promoting violence, hate speech, vulgarity, and offensive behavior. For these reasons, it should be banned.
TikTok Ban Not a Solution
Not everyone was persuaded, though. A section of Kenyans, including members of parliament, opposed the proposed ban. They argued the short-form video-sharing app with Chinese roots was a source of livelihood for many Kenyans.
And as expected, online content creators were all up in arms. TikTok influencer Rose Atieno, best known as Nyako, took to her favourite platform to protest:
“One selfish person can make a motion that he wants TikTok banned. We have to sit at the table with the government and regulate how TikTok can work for us peacefully. They have to consult us first,” she fumed.
“Let them put rules to govern Tiktok. That’s the way to go. This app helps a lot of people earn a living,” Jackline Mwende added as the debate on the TikTok ban petition raged on.
There were divergent views on how TikTok was impacting Kenyans’ livelihoods and reshaping societal norms. But notably, both sides appeared to agree there was a need for rules to govern the use of TikTok.
The calls for TikTok regulation mirror the huge responsibility that digital media practitioners are confronted with as they seek to reach more audiences and tap into new markets. TikTok and other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter (now known as X), and YouTube have become instrumental in shaping public discourse, and opinions and reaching diverse audiences.
However, with this influence comes the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the information shared, combat misinformation and disinformation, push back on hate speech, cyberbullying, and harassment, and maintain high ethical standards that are essential for the practice of journalism.
Bridging Trust Gap Online
The level of public trust in news content published on social media platforms has been disturbingly low as a result of the proliferation of fake news and all sorts of unsafe content being circulated on these platforms.
According to Digital News Report 2023 by Reuters Institute, trust in online news fell to 40%, down 2% from 2022, erasing the progress that had been made during the Covid-19 pandemic globally.
The report showed 64% of social media users were worried about misinformation, compared to 50% among non-users.
A staggering 56% of the people surveyed agreed with the statement, “Thinking about online news, I am concerned about what is real and what is fake on the internet.”
In light of these emerging concerns, the media’s role as a counter to the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation in the online space coupled with low and dwindling public trust is more pressing than ever.
Media Council of Kenya’s Intervention Timely
The Code of Conduct for Digital Media Practitioners published by the Media Council of Kenya arrived at a critical juncture.
As digital media continues to evolve to keep pace with disruptive innovations, its practitioners must also adhere to professional guidelines that can safeguard the public interest and help rebuild lost trust and confidence.
This Code should not be seen as a hindrance to creative expression or suppression of the freedom of speech that is protected in Article 33, Chapter Four of the Kenyan constitution. Instead, it is a framework that empowers media professionals to contribute positively to society by disseminating accurate, balanced, and responsible content.
The heated debate around TikTok underscores the urgency of such guidelines and responsible digital media practices, not just for TikTok but for all digital media platforms.
By putting together a Code – with contributions from key players, the Council took a necessary and timely step toward instilling this sense of responsibility in the fast-changing digital media landscape.
The Code of Conduct aims to promote self-regulation, professionalism, and ethics in the online space. It also provides a way to protect the rights and interests of digital media consumers, who deserve to access reliable and credible information online.
Code of Conduct Not a Magic Bullet
However, the code of conduct is not a substitute for the legal framework that governs the digital media sector, nor is it a shield against the consequences of violating the law or infringing on the rights of others.
The Code, in this case, is a voluntary and self-imposed guideline that requires the commitment and cooperation of all stakeholders to make it effective and meaningful.
Therefore, it is imperative that all players adhere to the Code. This will not only enhance their credibility and reputation but also foster a culture of trust and respect among themselves and with their audiences. It will equally contribute to the development of a vibrant digital media ecosystem that serves the public interest and promotes democracy.
The MCK has done its part. Now it is up to the digital media practitioners to also do their part.
Jacob Onyango is the managing editor of TUKO.co.ke. He is passionate about shaping ethical online behavior and believes digital media practitioners have the potential to drive positive change in Kenya.