Three private television stations — NTV, KTN and Citizen TV — which were shutdown on Tuesday, will remain off air until investigations into subversion claims against them are concluded.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on Wednesday said police were looking into the “role of some elements in the media fraternity who participated in the furtherance of an attempt to subvert or overthrow the government”.
The three were shutdown by the Communications Authority of Kenya as they broadcast live opposition leader Raila Odinga’s “swearing-in” as the “people’s president” at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on Tuesday.
“The country’s security agencies will take action against some individuals who include but are not limited to certain media houses,” Dr Matiang’i said at a press conference in Nairobi.
“Their complicity would have led to thousands of deaths of innocent Kenyans due to the buildup of the incitement that was witnessed in the early hours of the morning.”
He said media owners and other relevant actors had been given a full security situation brief ahead of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) function, which some ignored.
“Some media houses chose to disregard this advice, their own code of ethics, self-regulation and the moral responsibility of every Kenyan to safeguard the security of their fellow citizens,” Dr Matiang’i said.
Kenya Editors Guild chairman Linus Kaikai had on Monday accused the government of threatening to shutdown TV stations that would air the Uhuru Park ceremony live.
In a statement, he attributed the claim to some media managers and selected editors having been allegedly summoned to a meeting at State House, Nairobi, on Friday.
“The brief meeting attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru and AG Githu Muigai did not bode well for the freedom of expression and press in the country,” Mr Kaikai, who is also the NTV general manager, said.
He added: “At the meeting, President Kenyatta expressly threatened to shutdown and revoke the licences of any media house that would broadcast live the planned purported swearing-in of Nasa leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka.
"That direct threat has subsequently been echoed, off record, by other senior members of government.”
He called on all media houses and journalists to “carry on with their work diligently and to report impartially on all matters of public interest as they have always done”.
But while covering the Nasa function, Citizen TV was shutdown, followed by NTV and then KTN.
The move has been met with criticism by several organisations and individuals, who have termed it unconstitutional.
The International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) described it as an abhorrent act of causing fear, intimidation and harassment of Kenyan media.
“Media freedom must be fully and effectively guaranteed. It is important to protect the right to freedom of expression while allowing free and independent media,” ICPC chairman Ndung’u Wainaina said and criticised failure to shut down K24, which is associated with President Kenyatta’s family, terming it a conflict of interest.
“Mr Uhuru is emerging as a populist authoritarian. He is dangerously attacking media freedom.
"Yet an independent press is one of the essential pillars of a democracy. Free press is always the bulwark against secret government, against authoritarianism and against tyranny,” Mr Wainaina said.
He said the CA was utterly in violation of Article 34 of the Constitution.
The article guarantees media freedom and states that the state shall not exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in the broadcasting, production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium; or penalise any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.
Law Society of Kenya (LSK) presidential candidate Allen Waiyaki Gichuhi said freedom of the press is special.
“Freedom of expression enables the public to receive information and ideas, which are essential for them to participate in their governance and protect the values of democratic government on the basis of informed decisions,” Mr Gichuhi said.
Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) Secretary-General Stephen Mutoro said the shutdown was a violation of the basic right to information as provided in law.
“Right to information is a constitutional provision. The government is applying double standards while purporting to protect the rule of law as it violates the same law,” he said.
Human Rights Watch Africa researcher Otsieno Namwaya said the government had restricted media coverage at a critical moment, violating the public’s right to information.