OPINION: Controlling gambling in media calls for industry approach

By David Omwoyo

Media regulation in Kenya, just like in the rest of the world, is changing fast. This is largely because of the changed nature of news distribution and  shrinking revenue base as well as  aggressive marketing that many times borders on breach of ethical standards.

For media regulators, thus, it is a constant search for new and responsive approaches that ensure audiences are empowered to consume content that is not harmful. As media outlets continuously innovate ways of remaining sustainable, regulators, aware of the fundamental requirement to protect freedom of expression while at the same ensuring dissemination of professional content, invest in research and knowledge exchange to ensure this balance is respected.

This is the context in which the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), concerned about what appears unregulated gambling and promotion of related activities, formed a taskforce to review betting and related activities in media outlets. The team, consisting of eminent media sector professionals, was identified to address all emerging issues, best practices, and their impact on the media industry.

Further, the team will investigate media houses’ ability to vet advertisements and outside content and shows. From these, the taskforce will make recommendations to the Council on the place of advertising code in relation to promotion and hosting of gambling in media.

The formation of the taskforce is in line with the MCK’s broader intervention to ensure compliance with the standards provided for by the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya that places the overall responsibility of all media content on editors,  accredited by the Council. In the same breadth, the Council has developed an advertising code of conduct and initiated training for media practitioners and workers on ethical practice.

The Media Council of Kenya is mandated under Article 34 of the Constitution to set media standards and regulate compliance with those standards. Section 6 (d) of the Media Council Act, 2013 mandates the Council to promote and enhance ethical and professional standards amongst journalists and media enterprises. It is pursuant to this provision of law that the Council instituted the taskforce to review betting and related activities in media outlets.

The composition of the taskforce was a deliberate effort to draw experiences from knowledgeable media experts, given the gravity of gambling in our radio, television, and online media platforms.  Given the pervasiveness of gambling within the realms of the media industry it is  critical that the issue is addressed by the media  itself.

Better still, we have incorporated membership from key state agencies – the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB) and the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) – given their central role in regulation of gambling and broadcasting, respectively. To assist the team will be legal offices of the respective organisations including the MCK.

That said, the Council acknowledges the presence of legitimate lotteries and jackpot games licensed by both the BLCB and CA. However, some broadcasters are flouting set regulations on gambling and violating the advertising code as well as the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya.

Our intent to assess gambling in our broadcast media was prompted by the new challenges presented by the expansion of online media content generation and dissemination. The efforts are meant to complement those by the above agencies, while also regulating media practice.

Live coverage, especially on radio and TV as well as online, has immense popularity and has improved effectiveness of journalism. With this growth however, the Council has noted that the content in the gambling advertisements and talk shows often does not meet the standards established in law. The regulation of such content is important to safeguard the accuracy of information consumed by the public.

Promotion of and advertising of gambling on media platforms is a potential public health issue. It may have a direct and material effect on gambling participation particularly by children. Recently, we have observed that media houses are taking part or running gambling programmes without licenses and advertising gambling outside watershed hours, in some cases even during children shows. This is unacceptable.

Accordingly, the Council has found it necessary to develop structures and processes that will enable organised and collaborative interventions within the sector. The media plays a crucial role in informing, entertaining and educating the public and should accept accountability when it negates its primal duty. This, therefore, calls for a solution to a media problem driven by the media.

Mr Omwoyo is the CEO of the Media Council of Kenya. domwoyo@mediacouncil.or.ke