By Dinnah Ondari and Rebecca Mutiso
Ten years ago, anyone who babbled around with the word artificial intelligence in a Kenyan newsroom was branded an illusionist; today it is the catchphrase.
AI, machine learning and data processing are becoming increasingly important in any newsroom looking to survive the avalanche of the digital revolution. In fact, job titles such as data scientist, data analyst, content strategist, content engineer, and impact editors are rapidly gaining traction in media houses that are considered early adopters of digital journalism. Nowadays it is almost impossible to distinguish between an article written by a machine and an article written by a journalist. AI has enabled editors to figure out their audience’s needs at a granular level and offer them articles that “speak to their soul”. If the trend of automating journalism catches on quickly enough across the continent, it would be difficult to tell in a couple of years if the news anchor is calling you.”mendwa msikilizaji” is a robot or a human.
Despite fears that AI adoption portends massive media job losses, it offers a range of opportunities for an industry struggling to survive amid dwindling revenues.
Post Covid, the opportunities offered by digital media have enabled the media to reshape their approaches to content generation, distribution and promotion to ensure its sustainability.
It is therefore no coincidence that the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), celebrated on September 28th, focuses on AI, e-governance and the right of citizens to seek, receive and impart information, will focus.
Even in an environment where information is everywhere and anyone can access it at the touch of a button, citizens still rely on the media to dissect, analyze and palatable it, and so we cannot talk about access to information, without discussing freedom of the press and thinking about the sustainability of quality journalism.
As 2019 New Powers, New Responsibilities: A Global Survey on Journalism and Artificial Intelligence aptly put, “algorithms will power the systems, but the human touch, insight and judgment will come first”.
It is therefore important that the media reconsider their public service role, ensuring that the introduction of AI does not jeopardize professional ethics and that they stay true to their duty of comforting the afflicted and tormenting the comfortable.
The possibilities offered by digital media cannot be overstated; However, it is also important to recognize the importance of digital security for both individual journalists and the profession.
The digital space is vast and brings with it many regulatory changes, but journalists and media practitioners cannot escape the obligation to uphold professional ethics both online and offline.
Therefore, media institutions and professionals who want to take advantage of the digital space need to invest in digital security tools. For starters, misinformation, misinformation, and disinformation have become the bane of digital journalism. Therefore, it is incumbent on us as an industry to protect our digital space by investing in cyber security tools, fact checking and staying aware of the prevailing legal and regulatory environment.
This will protect the digital media environment as Internet security challenges evolve.
Kenya is one of the world leaders in the Open Governance Partnership adopted in Kenya’s National Action Plan for Open Governance Numbers 3 and 4. In 2011, Kenya established the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) with the aim of “making core data on government development, demographics, statistics and spending available in a useful digital format for researchers, policy makers, ICT developers and the general public. KODI provides large datasets from the Kenyan government (e.g. census, public spending, data from ministries of health and education).
However, implementing open governance has presented challenges. There is evidence that officials have not been proactive in sharing information with the public and media as required by law. Difficulties also arise when journalists and members of the public seek information, as inquiries are either not answered or responses are unduly delayed. This often creates distrust between journalists/public and news sources/issues and exposes the media to negative consequences for violating the code of conduct 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 increasingly recognized as a prerequisite for sustainable development and respect for human rights. SDG 16 also anchors the goal (16.10) of promoting access to information in the 2030 Agenda.
Therefore, government and media play a dual role in digital dispensation by ensuring citizens have access to information to foster development. However, all ethical considerations are made in the spirit of Do No Harm.
The authors work at the Media Council of Kenya