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Kenya requires professional body for journalists

COMMENTARY
By | February 10th 2010

Jasper Otieno

Journalists in Kenya are practitioners without a professional body that set standards for their practice and regulation.

Many, including the journalists, have always believed that Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) is the professional body for practicing journalists. KUJ began both as a professional body and trade union. However, the union, so it is said, has since abandoned the professional path and concentrates on trade union activism. This has made it to be identified as a trade union and not a professional association.

According to wikipedia, a profession is a vocation founded upon specialised educational training, the purpose of which is to supply disinterested counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation wholly, apart from expectation of other business gain.

Formal qualifications

A profession arises when any trade or occupation transforms itself through the development of formal qualifications based upon education and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights.

The roles of these professional associations include maintaining control or oversight of the legitimate practice of the occupation, safeguarding the public interest, and representing the interests of the professional practitioners.

Professional practitioners

They set certain educational standards as qualification for membership and practice. For example, to practice as an advocate in Kenya, one has to be a member of law society of Kenya (LSK) which requires that one has to hold a bachelors degree in Law and post-graduate diploma in Legal practice. LSK, a creature of an Act of Parliament, regulates the professional and ethical practices of its members. Medical practitioners, surveyors, engineers, and many other professional practitioners in Kenya also have their own umbrella professional bodies.

Memberships to professional bodies are restricted to professional practitioners who have to meet certain qualifications set by the respective professional bodies. One of those qualifications is academic.

Qualification for journalism practice, just like any other profession, should be based on a standard academic and professional training. For example, setting ceiling of possessing either a diploma or bachelor degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from a recognised training institution.

A part from giving status to journalists to practice on a professional platform, it will rid the media industry of ‘gate crashers’ who have lowered the reputation and dignity of journalism practice.

We know the Media Council of Kenya is empowered by sec. 35 (2) of the Media Act, 2007 to regulate the professional practice of journalists based the code of conduct and practice . In my view the media council is a regulator and not a professional body, just like Kenya Union of Journalists is a trade union and not a professional body. The million dollar question is why journalists have not formed a professional body to set standards for their professional practice.

Accreditation

The media council does accreditation to those already practicing, meaning that any one without any training in journalism but employed as a journalist will be accredited. I believe it does this because of the vacuum, that is, the absence of a professional body to determine qualification and do accreditation.

Since a code of conduct applies to members of a professional association as explained earlier, then the media council should not be the body mandated to oversee the implementation of the code of conduct for journalists since it is not a professional association.

So what is the standard qualification set for one to practice as a journalist in Kenya? Is it good looks, sweet voice, or winning a comedy show or beauty pageant competition?

The writer teaches Journalism at Kenya Polytechnic University College.

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