Why Kenya needs a policy and strategy on information literacy

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Information including media content regulation in Kenya is as problematic as it is in the rest of the world, given the rapidly expanding information and communication space within the context of increasing demand for respect for human rights including freedom of expression and right to information access. As we grapple with ensuring our regulatory environment protects Kenyans against harmful information and nonprofessional content, we must prioritize developing a nation’s policy and strategy on media and information literacy for the country to make meaningful use of the information and technological innovations instead of over-relying on regulations.

The emergence of new media coupled with digital migration which has seen the massive expansion of space- Kenya has currently over 200 radio stations, 85 TV stations, nearly 100 publications, both online and offline and 8 million people on Facebook, which has brought in a new way of relooking at the media regulation, with focus on media and information literacy.

In addition, the government has embraced ICT in its provision of services including the establishment of Huduma Centers, the Digital Literacy program, the Konza Technopolis, Huduma Namba, the e-citizen portal and availability of other government services including the application of passports, driver’s license, birth certificates, tracking of exams results online, among others which require that citizens be literate in the means and forms of communication in order to effectively take advantage of these services.

With more expanded space to access information and express themselves, Kenyans have more access to media content, produced locally and globally, which on many occasions is found to be harmful or breaching laws and regulations. Efforts by a number of players in the country including the Government, regulators (Kenya Film Classification Board, Media Council of Kenya and Communication Authority of Kenya, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Copyright Society of Kenya, Commission for University Education), parents on exposure to clean and responsible content especially by the youth are laudable and bearing fruit.

Sadly, laws and regulations will never catch up with technological advances and innovation, and the onus must now be on responsible and literate access and consumption of content rather than criminalisation and over-regulation. There is great need to understand how the content including media is generated, composed and distributed; a national effort and call to invest in nationwide programs on media and information literacy, that will help Kenyans especially the youth to appreciate the values and morals behind information production.

Towards this effort, the Media Council of Kenya in partnership with UNESCO jointly with the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, KICD, Universities among others are working to develop a national MIL policy and implementation strategy for consideration by the government, that will be a game-changer in ensuring Kenyans are responsible users of information, in addition to existing regulation.

Draft documents are ready and we believe they will help in ensuring the protection of the youth against harmful and illegal information and media content. Other countries including Sweden and Denmark, have invested heavily in media and information literacy programs for their citizens with remarkable success.

Kenyans, particularly the youth, are inundated with information from across the web that they need to make sense of. They need sufficient skills to enable them to take advantage of these resources and deliberately navigate the information space. For starters, the information that they access is packaged in cultural garb of which some may be aware of while others may not. But they consume them in a different cultural garb context. This is where their skills in deciphering and selectively apply the information is important.

A number of laws still exist that would have coerced Kenyans into regulated users and disseminators of information but this has not happened; we still see Kenyans access and disseminating information that breaches a number of laws, either deliberately or otherwise. Such existing laws include the Books and Newspapers Act, Public Security Act, Official Secrets Act, Films and Stage Plays Act, The Defamation Act, The Preservation of Public Security Act, The Public Order Act and Chief’s Authority Act, National Police Service Commission Act, National Intelligent Service Act, Kenya Defence Forces Act, Copy Right Act, and the Penal Code) while others create public agencies to regulate the industry (Media Council of Kenya, Communications Authority, Competitions Authority of Kenya, Copyright Society of Kenya, Kenya Films Board. Legal, commercial and administrative measures have been employed to regulate access to information- SIM card registration, regulations on hate speech, bulky political advertising/messaging.

It is for this reason that we need to educate Kenyans especially the youth on responsible use of information that it is important that the Government creates a MIL policy that will ensure that the youth within the education system are exposed to skills relating to their understanding of media and information processing. The Constitution in Article 10 implores Kenyans to cultivate a culture of homegrown values among Kenyans including patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people;
human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized; good governance, integrity, transparency, accountability; and sustainable development.

The policy must ensure that all agencies involved in education, information, training and other technologies of communication should incorporate MIL in their programs with the overall aim being to inculcate in the citizens knowledge, attitudes, skills, and practices that can be applied in accessing, analyzing, evaluating, using, producing and communicating information and knowledge in creative, legal and ethical ways that respect human rights.

The Writer works at the Media Council of Kenya

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