By Enoch Sithole

Media professionals in the East African Community (EAC) have established the East African Press Council (EAPC) to “promote and protect free, independent, professional and accountable media” on the sub-continent.

                                                                                                                                                 Cytonn Photography via Unsplash. 

Launched in Arusha, Tanzania, in October 2023, the EAPC has plans to create a media landscape that will pursue “regulatory systems, which promote media freedom, regulatory systems that promote independence, accountability and (media) diversity in the region,” said EAPC chairperson, retired editor Mr Kajubi Mukajanga in an interview with Ajenda.

Tracing the history of the establishment of the sub-continental press body, Mukajanga said Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda spearheaded the initiative with a view to creating harmony in several areas such as the cross-border accreditation of journalists. He said they wanted this harmonised “so that when journalists work across borders don’t get a lot of hassle” to get accreditation.

Despite similar regulatory systems in the sub-continent’s countries, there was a concern that there was no network that brought together the different regulatory bodies of the region, said Mukajanga.

This concern led to discussions in Kisumu, Kenya, in 2019 that led to a decision to embark on an initiative to create a regional press council.

                   EAPC chairperson, Kajubi Mukajanga. 

Mukajanga led a team comprising representatives from Kenya and Uganda tasked with canvassing the initiative in new EAC members such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan. 

However, the work to establish the press council was frustrated by the policies of the late Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, who was not amenable to the initiative, said Mukajanga.

Furthermore, the EAPC being a federation of media councils of the region’s countries, there was a challenge that some countries did not have any media council. They dealt with this challenge by allowing journalism formations of those countries to join the EAPC. They admitted the Federation of Somali Journalists and the Union of Congolese Journalists, for instance.

Mukajanga said the EAPC would not hear any complaints against the media unless these were cross-border. Complaints within countries would continue to be heard by country-level press councils.

“Our model is not strictly like that of an ombudsman. Besides hearing complaints, there are other things we do to promote independence and professionalism (of the media). We will also engage in training, advocacy, and research as well as engagement with governments and parliaments,” said Mukajanga. The ultimate goal, he added, was to work towards harmonising the regulatory system in the region.

The EAPC had the backing of several governments on the sub-continent, and it did not expect much trouble with most of them, said Mukajanga.  

The EAPC has received a thumbs up from the EAC, whose secretary-general, Dr Peter Mutuku Mathuki, told the EAPC launching conference that “a robust, free, independent and accountable media is a basic need for the attainment of these EAC principles. Independent and professional journalism is the cornerstone of any democratic dispensation, without which freedom of expression is jeopardised, and so are the basic rights of members of society. 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 told the event that society lost out when the media could not do its work independently and professionally as channels of free expression.

“Without robust, independent journalism, society, more so the weak, including women and youth, lose out as they have neither means nor relevant information to hold leaders to account and to demand what they are rightly entitled to.

He backed media regulation saying: “Media regulation should therefore aim at enabling effective and accountable media in the service of the people. It should not lead to the strangling of media through undue control and over-regulation. When media regulators understand this, and they come together in solidarity to champion the promotion of accountable and independent media, then a great stride has been made.”