By Doreen Muyonga
Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) recently switched off broadcast signals for Citizen TV, Inooro TV, NTV and KTN news.
This is after the TV stations ignored a directive from Statehouse instructing them not to cover live proceedings of the much-hyped controversial swearing-in of the opposition chief Raila Odinga as the people’s president.
CA thrashed a court order issued by high court judge Chacha Muita to have the signals restored. Instead, maintained that the TV stations would remain switched off until investigations are completed.
CA would later reinstate broadcast signals of KTN News, NTV and that Citizen TV and Inooro TV would remain shut until further notice.
In addition, CA barred Human Rights activist Okiya Omtata from serving its management with a court order suspending the media shutdown. A move that left millions of Kenyans in the dark and feeling disillusioned.
The Editors Guild Chairman Linus Kaikai had forewarned of the imminent closure to the Media Houses who would go against the Government’s grain, he regretted the incident saying “The media remains a mere messenger and a chronicler of any event happening in the country.”
Media Council of Kenya’s (MCK) CEO David Omwoyo termed the incident as unfortunate and one that would have been avoided if there had been no communication breakdown between government and the media. Omwoyo appealed to the government to allow media space to do its work “Media should not be dragged into a political contest.”
In my view, Kenya’s press freedom has shrunk in the recent past. It will be remembered that CA came under sharp scrutiny in the manner in which it handled the controversial issuance of the digital migration signals. The move saw local media and CA engage in numerous court battles in a bid to have them licensed to distribute their own signals.
CA has continued to exhibit intolerance for critical media and on the other side allowing the state-owned KBC and K24 to operate during the clampdown. Patrick Gathara, a strategic communication consultant observes that the recent media shutdown was in bad faith, noting with concern “It would have been desirable for CA to issue a notice to the media houses before shutting them down or simply put communicate to the affected media about the switch off and the possible resumption of broadcast.”
Governments’ attempts to fully control the media began with its proposed Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Act (KICTA) that could see it regulate media operations and punish errant journalists. The recent case points to flying squad officers attempt to arrest three NTV journalists who were besieged in their newsroom. The three: Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo, and Ken Mijungu sought the court’s intervention by obtaining anticipatory bail barring the Government from their arrest
Henry Maina, Regional Director ARTICLE 19 East Africa said, “Action by CA to shut down the media was unlawful because no written notice was served to the media stating specific sections of the law that they had violated.”
CA is mandated by the constitution to independently regulate the broadcasting and telecommunications sector, a function that over the years the Authority has been unable to execute freely. The Authority has continued to function under instructions from the government.
Gathara warns that failure by CA to live to its expectations demonstrates its unwillingness to support the country’s robust media industry.
Omwoyo advises that CA should stick to licensing the media and not manage its newsrooms.
It remains to be seen on whether the implications of CA’s move to shut down the media are farfetched or not.