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Kenya: Artificial Intelligence Has Opened Doors for Media but Ethics Must Always Prevail

Ten years ago, if you bandied around the word Artificial Intelligence in a Kenyan newsroom, you would be branded an illusionist, today it is the buzzword.

AI, machine learning and data processing are fast becoming essential in any newsroom that hopes to survive the digital revolution avalanche. In fact, job titles such as data scientist, data analyst, content strategist, content engineer and impact editors are fast gaining currency in media houses deemed digital journalism early adopters. Today, it is almost impossible to distinguish between an article authored by a machine and that written by a journalist, AI has enabled editors to figure out their audiences needs to granular levels and offer them articles that “speak to their souls”. If the trend of automation of journalism catches on in the continent fast enough, in a few years it would be difficult to tell if the news anchor calling you “mpendwa msikilizaji” is a robot or human.

Despite the fears that adoption of AI portends massive job losses in the media, it offers an array of opportunities for an industry struggling to survive in the face of dwindling revenues.

Post-Covid, the opportunities provided by digital media have ensured that media is able to remodel its approaches in content generation, distribution and advertising to guarantee its sustainability.

It is therefore no coincidence that the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) which will be celebrated on September 28, will focus on AI, e-governance and the right of citizens to seek, receive and impart information.

Even in an environment where information is everywhere and anyone can access it at a click of a button, citizens still rely on the media to dissect, analyze and make it palatable for them and therefore we cannot talk about access to information without discussing press freedom and mulling over the sustainability of quality journalism.

As the 2019 New Powers, new responsibilities: A global survey of journalism and artificial intelligence aptly put it “algorithms will power the systems, but the human touch, insight and judgement will be at a premium”.

It is therefore important for media to re-examine its public service role by ensuring that the adoption of AI does not compromise the ethics of the profession and they remain true to their duty of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

The opportunities presented by digital media cannot be overemphasized; however, it is also important to appreciate the importance of digital security on both individual journalists and the profession.

The digital space is wide and present many changes when it comes to regulations, however Journalists and media practitioners cannot escape the obligation of maintaining professional ethics online, just as they do offline.

There is need therefore for media institutions and professionals keen on utilizing the digital space, to invest in digital security tools. For starter misinformation, Misinformation and disinformation have become the bane of digital journalism. It therefore behooves us an industry to protect our digital space by investing in cyber security tools, fact-checking and remaining conscious of the prevailing legal and regulatory environment.

This will protect the digital media environment in the wake of evolving security challenges online.

Kenya is one of the global leaders in the Open Governance Partnership which has been adopted in Kenya’s National Action Plan on open governance, number 3&4. In 2011 Kenya established Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) with the goal of making “core government development, demographic, statistical and expenditure data available in a useful digital format for researchers, policymakers, ICT developers and the general public KODI makes available large data sets from the Kenyan government (e.g., census, public expenditure, data from health and education ministries).

However, implementation of open governance has had challenges. There is evidence to show that public officers have not been proactively releasing information to the public and media as required by the law. There are also difficulties experienced whenever journalists and members of the public seek information as requests either remain responded to or replies are inordinately delayed. This often creates mistrust between journalist/public and news sources/subjects and exposes the media to negative consequences of breaching the Code of Conduct for the practice for the practice of journalism in Kenya.

Universal access to information means that everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information. Access to information is more and more recognized as a prerequisite for sustainable development and for maintaining human rights. With SDG 16, the target (16.10) to promote access to information is also anchored in the 2030 Agenda.

Therefore, the government and the media play a dual role in the digital dispensation by ensuring that citizens have access to information to foster development but in so doing, all ethical considerations are put in place in the spirit of do no harm.

The Authors work at the Media Council of Kenya

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