To regulate or not to regulate Bloggers -Why are Kenyan Journalists scared?

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This week, bloggers were invited to a panel on the NTV TV show, Press Pass to discuss blogging in Kenya. The theme of the show was whether blogging is becoming an alternative media and among those in attendance were Bobby @Mwirigi representing BAKE, Brenda Wambui of Brainstorm.co.ke, Samuel Majani of Ghafla.co.ke, Robert Alai of Techmtaa.com and Denis Itumbi representing the Government.

It was interesting to see the show’s host and moderator, Mark Masai, a journalist, spend the entire time pushing for bloggers to be regulated. Why journalists are keen to have bloggers regulated is beyond my pay grade but I have room to speculate here. More to that later. I have to say that I was shocked that, in the issue of blogging and bloggers the Government and the Government representatives somehow understand how the internet and blogging works better than the Kenyan Journalists. If you listened to the show, it was clear that Denis Itumbi, who still describes himself as the Government Blogger, has a view which is closer to bloggers than the journalists. It is important to note that there are others in government institutions whom I have talked to and basically have a clear understanding on what should be done. I am talking about the people at the ICT Authority and even the Registrar of Societies. It took us long to have BAKE (Bloggers Association of Kenya) registered officially but we came to realize that the problem at the time, the Registrar had very vague idea on how blogging work and what role BAKE was planning to play on the space. When I got chance to sit down with him and explained how things work, he was glad that at long last there is an organization in Kenya ready to promote greater standards of local content in the country.

 

Talking of BAKE, it is important to understand our thinking three years ago and why we thought it was important to have such an organization in Kenya. At the time, there were very little Local content about Kenya, majority of those who were writing about Kenya were from outside the country. It was at a point where Kenya and Africa as a whole were being defined by the foreigners. We looked around and thought, “why don’t we try to promote creation of online content in Kenya”. Why do we wait for others to define who we are as a nation (of course we understand that Kenyan journalists are happy to be defined by the foreign media like CNN because they are looking for jobs in those organizations or probably waiting to win Awards organized by CNN). The consensus was that we form an organization to promote the creation of local online content within Kenya and possibly Africa as a whole. Three years down the line the conversation is no longer what it was three years ago, and the country is now basically being defined by what her citizens say and not what others think. When CNN tried to mislead the world when an incident involving a hand explosive took place at the OTC bus stop, Kenyans online were ready to tell them off. When they tried again to stage manage tribal militia practicing how to attack other tribes after the elections, again it was bloggers and social media users who took upon themselves to point out the nonsense by using the hashtag #SomeoneTellCNN. The News organization later retracted their story and gave an apology for it.

I do understand where the people calling for bloggers to be regulated are coming from although I disagree with them. When I asked my colleague Odipo Riaga about what he thinks about the whole regulate bloggers noise, he told me he agrees with people calling for the regulation, and yes you can read his views here.

First, it is important to understand how internet and blogging work, a fact that I realized that most journalists in Kenya have no idea about. The internet up to date is controlled by US, a matter that most countries are not happy about. There is big push for the control of the internet to be handed to a neutral body like UN. Further down the line majority of sites, (almost all blogs in Kenya) are hosted in US. What that means is that a blog like Kachwanya.com is essentially under US law (State of California to be specific), although our blog covers what goes on in Kenya. There are two kind of blogs; the self-hosted like Kachwanya.com and those hosted on third party platform like blogger, wordpress and tumblr. A good example of a Kenyan blog hosted by third party platforms is bankelele.blogspot.com. All the mentioned platforms were created by guys in US and it is the reason why almost all blogs in Kenya are hosted in US. What I am trying to drive at here is that Kenya does not control the hosting or the platforms the bloggers use. Instead of shouting regulate, journalists should be encouraging Kenyans to be creative and come up with local blogging platforms. Another task for journalists would be to ask Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) and Kenic why it cost twice to register co.ke as compared to commercial domain extensions like .com. The final task is to ask the KPLC to provide reliable power to enable companies to build reliable local hosting of the domains

If you are still with me then you should have seen why it is hard to regulate blogging in Kenya. We recognize that from the beginning and that is why BAKE is working hard to improve the standards of content created in Kenya. BAKE is constantly organizing trainings for both established bloggers and upcoming ones. On top of that, every year BAKE organizes Blog Awards to recognize and reward those who do exceptional contents. Another important point, is the work BAKE is doing with Universities and colleges. Majority of online users in Kenya at the moment are in universities and colleges, and therefore BAKE is working closely with those intuitions to encourage good use of internet from that level.

 

So why regulate and what do they mean by regulation?

This is a question that I keep on asking myself. When you ask for bloggers to be regulated, what exactly are you talking about?

What is this thing you call regulation? #Presspass

I have the feeling those advocating for the bloggers to be regulated, want them to not write about some things. Fair enough, but how do you decide what not to be said. Every blogger I talk to feels that the best way to go about it is to let the law of the land takes it course. If you feel that you have been defamed then take the person to court.

As a community there is need for ethical standards, most of which are based on the universal human rights. Better still, we can build a community based on love and respect for the neighbors. I am always impressed to see how the traditional African societies used to work. The most fascinating aspect about it is the fact that there were no written laws, but people generally knew the boundaries. People knew what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. The ever growing Kenyan online space has the self-correcting mechanism, which I feel can be used effectively to manage the situation.

Why are Journalists feeling that bloggers should be regulated?

I remember when the media was in trouble with the Government on the new media bill around last year. Every blogger was out to condemn the Government about it. Bloggers added their voices on telling the government to leave the media alone. It is ironic that the same people have now turned on bloggers but that is beside the point. Here is the point according to Wallace Kantai

The ‘bloggers’ on @presspasske with @markmasai want to have all the privileges of the mainstream media with none of the responsibilities.

Interesting. Most bloggers would tell you that they don’t want to be journalists and should not be called or labeled as journalist by any chance. Whoever told these people that bloggers want to be journalists lied to them entirely. And well, people don’t just speak for the sake of it. If you look at that tweet well, or the #Presspass discussion, it is clear from them that the journalists are feeling like bloggers are about to eat their cake and somehow they are worried.

Alternative Media

As I have said above, there are many great aspect of blogging that #presspass moderator was not willing to allow the panelists to discuss. I have already talked about Kenyans telling their own stories but the greatest aspect of blogging for me is the creativity that comes with it. Some of the greatest technologies to come out of this country are directly linked to blogging at some stage

Back in 2008, when Kenyans were killing each other, one bright blogger by then name Ory Okolloh(@Kenyanpundit) thought of ways to track and map hotspots across the country. The idea was discussed on a blog, team assembled on a blog and the progressed monitored on a blog. These days when the media guys talk of Kenyan innovation, they never forget to mention Ushahidi… Another great piece of work journalists fall on themselves to cover these days is the idea of hubs..with the ihub being the main model . The idea of iHub was muted by Erik Hersman on his famous blog whiteafrican.com. The model people see now was shaped on blogs.

Then there is democratization of the information which was clearly articulated by Brenda Wambui during the Press Pass discussion. But I don’t expect Kenyan journalists to understand that as they are already compromised.

The Way Forward

Two things are clear at this pointing time. One, the notion that people rely on a few primary sources for news is completely obsolete. With that came the rise of Bloggers and citizen journalists. Both journalists and bloggers need to understand that simple fact.

Two, people still trust the media as we know it but also ready to listen to the alternative stream. In other words, there is a space for journalists and bloggers to co-exist. Journalists need to concentrate on improving their profession while bloggers need to sort out the issues being pointed out by the public and the media people.

 

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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