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Congrats on launch of regional press council, now you must hit ground running

The East African Press Council was unveiled on October 19 in Arusha, Tanzania, the headquarters of the East African Community. Makofi!

The founding chairperson of the EAPC is Kajubi Mukajanga, the Executive Director of the Media Council of Tanzania. The secretary is David Omwoyo, CEO of the Media Council of Kenya. Emmanuel Mugisha, Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Media Commission, is the treasurer.

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,” the EAC said in a statement.

EAC Secretary General Dr Peter Mathuki said independent and professional journalism is the cornerstone of any democratic dispensation.

A vibrant media is essential for the attainment of social justice, rule of law, accountability, equality and protection of human and peoples’ rights,” Dr Mathuki said.

The wider society loses out when 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.”

Without a doubt. A free, independent, and vigorous press is essential not only for the realisation of democracy at national level but also for regional integration.

The East African Community was established to develop “policies and programmes aimed at widening and deepening cooperation among the partner states in political, economic, social and cultural fields, research and technology, defence, security and legal and judicial affairs, for their mutual benefit,” the founding treaty says.

The creation of the regional press council is a major milestone in the journey to achieve these objectives.

The EAPC provides a critical platform to monitor and promote media freedom, build capacities, and speak authoritatively on any violations in the region.

Already East Africa has well-established national and regional media institutions and organisations that can build strategic partnerships together with other stakeholders to protect and advance media freedom throughout the region.

National constitutions in East Africa guarantee media freedom and freedom of expression. But such protections are not always adhered to particularly by the political class.

Catherine Gicheru, director of Africa Women Journalism Project, and George Nyabuga, associate professor of media and journalism at Aga Khan University,wrote that:

Although guaranteed by the Constitution, respect for press freedom and free expression in Kenya are constrained by political and economic realities. The current political administration that came to power after the 2022 elections regularly claims that the media are biased against them. Physical attacks on journalists and the increase in online threats, harassment, and intimidation have had a chilling effect.”

This is not a concern only in Kenya. In fact, credible reports routinely paint a worse picture in certain countries in the region.

The answer is eternal vigilance. That is the price of freedom. The media should not simply focus on its professional roles of providing information, education, and entertainment, and holding power to account. It must also be at the forefront of fighting against threats to its own survival.

There are other headaches. As is now the trend globally, media in the region suffers from an increasingly poor economic environment that has raised sustainability questions for the sector. Business is bad. Journalists are being laid off and the welfare of those remaining in newsrooms has worsened as working conditions deteriorate and salaries are often delayed for long.

Because most media houses still rely almost entirely on advertising as the main source of revenue, their independence is also at stake as they try to strike a balance between adherence to professional obligations and the imperatives of business.

There are no easy answers to this complex situation. Many media houses have demonstrated commendable resilience in the face of this harsh reality. But bold innovations to wean newsrooms off over-reliance on declining and uncertain ad revenues haven’t fully succeeded.

This is the context in which the East Africa Press Council begins its job. After the celebration at the launch in Arusha, now the hard work must start to realise the EAC dream of One People, One Destiny.

See you next week!

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