Why Newspapers Have to Register at the GPO

Written by | Features, Quick Reads

Or rather, why do they need to?

If you look at the bottom of the back page of any daily, you will find ‘registered at the GPO as a newspaper’ written in small print. It is really not the kind of question that keeps you up at night but it is one of those that need answers.

It’s simple, for delivery. Cheaper delivery.

The registration is a remnant of a time when there were preferential postal rates on newspapers as long as they were in a newspaper wrapper and registered with the GPO as newspapers. It actually precedes the Kenyan state and survives today as a relic of her colonial history. To understand why it was really important that newspaper publications register at the General Post Office, you have to think of the postal service in its former glory. Until very recently, the postal service ran the most efficient delivery system across the nation. 


The first Kenyan post office was established on the coastal city of Mombasa in 1592. At the time, its primary work was to deliver letters from Portuguese governor posted at Mombasa to his home country and other European countries. As the missionaries ventured inland, they started a new link in the postal service where runners delivered letters to the coast from where they were transmitted to their destination.

Regular post started in May 1890 and sparked off a chain of postal offices in Lamu, Malindi, Wasini and Kilindini within the next decade. As the Lunatic Express snaked its way through the lion-infested jungle, it cut the time necessary to have letters delivered. According to the Posta website, mail delivery took 14 days to cover the distance from Mombasa to Machakos in 1895. This reduced to a mere 28 hours from Mombasa to Nairobi once that part of the railway was complete. These new postal service provided the most linkage between settled areas.

In Britain, the post office was the original newsagent once newspaper publication became mainstream business. Six officials were appointed and denoted Clerks of the Road; their work was to frank gazettes at 2d. Franking is a system where a machine is used to make impressions on postal articles to denote pre-payment of postage. The Franking Act of 1764 further allowed MPs to receive papers at no cost. Eighteen years later, the first full newspaper office was established at the GPO by John Palmer.

In 1815, the Ship Letter Act classified newspapers in such a way that they would be exported from the UK at reduced rates. The current condition became widespread in 1825 when free transmission of newspapers by post began. Nine years later, however, the Post Office ceased to have a privileged interest in the franking of newspapers.

This did not affect the relationship between the two for long as compulsory payment of stamp duty on newspapers was abolished in 1855. The newspapers were given two options, to print on paper stamped to denote payment of stamp duty and thus free transmission or to use unstamped paper and pay normal rates of postage. It was not a choice really but the British government was at the time trying to suppress the print activity f the radical Chartists. It combined this suppression with incentives on the one hand and laws requiring newspapers to be licensed by the postal office on the other. The Post Office Act of 1870 provided that, after registration with the Post Office, newspapers could be transmitted within the UK at a rate of 1/2d irrespective of weight.

This was at the same time as the beginnings of colonial power were sprouting at the Kenyan coast. Within four decades, Kenya had been carved out and named a British Protectorate. As a dominion of Her Majesty’s Government, the Post Office (Newspapers Published in British Possessions) Act of 1913 applied to Kenya as well. This Act which allowed that newspapers published in any British protectorate or possession could benefit from the inland newspaper rate for transmission.

The law remained as a practicality as postal services were taken over by the East African Posts and Telecommunications (EAPTC) in 1948. Its Kenyan successor was the KPTC which was broken into Telecommunications Kenya, KPC and CCK. Under KPC, which later became Posta Kenya, the law remained although it is now a choice and not a condition. The Postal Corporation of Kenya Act (2012) notes that one of the functions of the postal body is ‘registration for delivery of newspapers and periodicals.” It is not only in Kenya where such laws are still in place; in Nepal, newspapers are still sent at a subsidized rate to foreign countries and for free within the country as long as they are fully registered at the post office.

So, it’s simple, the service allowed newspapers to send their consignments under first class terms at a second class rate. This has since been phased out in most countries although preferential rates may still exist as newspapers provide postal services with assured daily business. It is just one of those requirements nobody had bothered to remove from the system.

Owaahh© 2014.

One Story is good, 

Till another is Told.

Last modified: February 3, 2020

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