Kenyan journalists are up in arms about a plan by the Media Council of
Kenya to levy annual registration fees, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

The Kenya Union of Journalists and the Kenya Journalists Association (KEJA) said the imposition of the fees, already published in the official Kenya Gazzette, is unfair since no consultations were conducted.

Under the council’s plan, anyone wishing to practice journalism in Kenya will, in addition to meeting other requirements, have to pay Shs 2 000 (around $30) for local journalists and Shs 10 000 (around $150) for foreign correspondents. Those on short term assignments lasting up to three months in Kenya will pay Shs 5 000 (about $75).

Media houses that have five or more outlets and radio and TV stations with a national reach would pay a levy of Shs 100 000 (about $1 500) a month. Smaller publishers and broadcasters will pay lesser fees.

The subscription fees are supposed to come into effect on September 30 but individual journalists and their organisations want them shelved until proper consultations are conducted. Media houses have yet to comment on the issue.
KEJA officials Vitalis Musebe and Bob Wekesa  said: “The ideal would have been for the Council to consult widely on means and ways of introducing subscription of journalists rather than springing a surprise.”

The officials also noted that the proposed fee of Shs 2 000 per year  is well beyond the means of many journalists, particularly freelance correspondents.

 “Information available to KEJA indicates that the decision to levy the Shs 2 000 is a means for the council to raise funds for its operations. While this is not an entirely bad thing, questions arise as to what specific services the council would be providing. Granted that the functions of the council are specified in the act; what journalists are calling for is an explicit explanation of what they will expect from the
council,” said Musebe and Wekesa.

For its part, KUJ secretary general Eric Orina wondered why the council, which was established last year as a self-regulating mechanism, is intent on pushing for the levies when it is taking very long to be fully operational so as to serve journalists better.

“To our knowledge, the council is yet to appoint a secretary or chief executive and members of the complaints commission, yet these (besides council members) are the key organs, envisaged in the Media Act 2007. We insist that these appointments must be made    transparently before journalists can be reasonably expected to support the council in any of its activities,” he said.

The media council has since indicated it still open to discussion on the issue.

“The council welcomes and values the ongoing comments by journalists and other media practitioners and is still open to further discussions and comments,” said media council chief executive Esther Kamweru in a release in which she sought to outline the process followed in coming up with the levies and the spirit behind the move.
Kamweru, who served in a similar position in the statutory council’s predecessor of a similar name, is still in office until a new chief executive is appointed in accordance with Media Act.