The Jubilee government on Wednesday signalled that the four television stations it switched off on Tuesday could remain in the state of paralysis indefinitely as it ‘investigates’ their participation in an “illegal act” of transmitting live broadcasts of the symbolic swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga as the ‘‘people’s president.’’
Interior secretary Fred Matiang’i claimed that the stations were bent on inciting violence that would have contributed to “a massacre of catastrophic proportions”.
Dr Matiangi said the media houses had been briefed of the security situation ahead of the event and would remain closed until the government completes its own inquiries into the matter.
“Accordingly, the Government took a decision to shut down the concerned media houses, until further notice, as it launches a full investigation into the serious breach of security,” said Dr Matiang’i. The Communications Authority (CA) officials, accompanied by armed security personnel, on Tuesday switched off TV transmitters for the stations that were broadcasting the arrival of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) supporters at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park for the “swearing in” ceremony.
The four stations affected — Citizen TV, Inooro TV, NTV and KTN News — account for more than 90 per cent of local TV viewership. State-broadcaster KBC and K24, associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, were spared the crackdown.
Consumers, however, still have access to content from the affected stations online.
The Kenya Editors Guild on Monday revealed that State House had summoned senior managers and media owners to threaten them with a shutdown and revocation of licences if they aired Raila’s “swearing-in” live.
The affected media houses are set to take a heavy financial hit in lost advertising revenues estimated at Sh30 million a day, according to data from IPSOS Synovate in the first quarter of 2017.
Wachira Waruru, managing director of Royal Media Services, told Reuters news agency that his company was “making huge losses” and that he would be willing to go to court if necessary.
The shutdown of the press has been roundly condemned by human rights organisations and industry lobby groups.
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) on Wednesday issued a statement saying that it was “shocked” by the shutdown even as it questioned why the government needed to keep the stations shut during investigations.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the authorities had “violated the public’s right to information about important events” while Article 19’s regional director Henry Maina said the decision “shows a deteriorating situation for Press freedom” and “the government’s disrespect for the public’s right to access independent media”.