Dennis Itumbi reports for Journalism.co.uk from Nairobi:
New media laws are threatening confrontation between Kenyan journalists and the government’s self-appointed media regulator, the Media Council.
Under the laws, which were passed despite protests by Kenyan journalists late last year, journalists in the country have to register for accreditation with the Media council.
Journalists must pay a compulsory sum of 2,000 Kenyan Shillings (£15.87) to register, regardless of whether they have registered in the past.
Those who fail to pay face imprisonment.
Foreign journalists are required to pay 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (£79.48) per month, while those working for less than three months will pay 5,000 Kenyan Shillings (£39.73) per month.
A letter from Kenya’s Media Council sent to all media owners said journalists would have to seek accreditation on an annual basis – a move seen as retrogressive by media groups.
Owners are also challenging the legislation, as it states that media houses must pay 20,000 Kenyan Shillings (£158.73) every month to fund ‘self-regulation’.
“[Y]ou have two months to comply or face the risk of deregistration,” it reads.
Eric Orina, secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), warned the move by the government would not be taken lightly. The organization would mobilize journalists to the streets to force the withdrawal of the fees demanded, he said.
“Self-regulation is the spirit of the laws and while we support accreditation of journalists we cannot allow the government through the Media Council to decide who practices journalism and who does not,” explained Orina, whose sentiments were echoed by Martin Gitau, chair of the Journalist Association of Kenya.
The Media Council has said it is merely implementing the existing Media Act 2007 and should not be blamed.
“We are a product of negotiation between the media and the government and since we have a legal mandate we have to implement it,” Wachira Waruru, chairman of the Media Council, maintained.
Elias Mbau, the journalist who helped organise demonstrations over another controversial clause in the act that would force journalists to disclose their sources, warned that the move to charge fees on a yearly basis would not be easily accepted.
“Nurses, engineers and lawyers are accepted into practice once; why should we renew accreditation as if it is membership to a club or a professional body?” said Mbau.