The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) on Tuesday switched off the signals of three major TV stations in Kenya ahead of Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s ‘Swearing in Ceremony’ at Uhuru Park.
The switch-off comes barely a day after the Kenya Editors Guild Chairman Linus Kaikai accused President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto of undermining the independence of the media following a meeting held at State House, Nairobi, last Friday, in which the media was warned against covering the Nasa event.
The Nation is reliably informed that Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) engineers were told to be on standby at the main transmission station in Limuru, Kiambu County, should any of the local outlets stream live the event taking place at the Nairobi’s Uhuru Park grounds.
The first to go off air was NTV owned by Nation Media Group followed by Citizen TV of Royal Media Services Limited, and two hours later KTN News, which was still relaying live updates from the city’s historical grounds.
Royal Media Services, which owns Citizen TV, confirmed in a statement that the CA switched off its ADN signals at the Limuru station, disabling all transmission.
Radio stations in parts of the country have also been affected.
“There has been no official communication as to why this action was taken. We are actively engaging the relevant government authorities to establish the reason for this action.
“We hope to resume normal transmission as soon as possible,” Royal Media Managing Director Waruru Wachira said.
NTV reported that its terrestrial free-to-air channels were switched off, but the signal could still be received on digital platforms and signal distributors such as DSTV.
Mr Kaikai on Monday accused the government of threatening to shut down television stations that would air live Nasa’s Uhuru Park event.
In a statement sent to newsrooms, Mr Kaikai said that a section of media managers and select editors from the main media houses were quietly summoned to a meeting at the State House, Nairobi, on Friday last week.
“The brief meeting attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi, ICT Secretary Joe Mucheru and AG Githu Muigai did not bode well for the freedom of expression and press in the country.
“At the meeting, President Kenyatta expressly threatened to shut down 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 on Tuesday. That direct threat has subsequently been echoed, off record, by other senior members of government,” Mr Kaikai said.
He urged media houses and journalists to “carry on their work diligently and to report impartially on all matters of public interest as they have always done”.
Mr Kaikai’s deputy, Samuel Kamau, however, distanced himself from the chairman’s statement, saying no threats were issued to media houses.
Article 34 of the Constitution guarantees media freedom and says that the state shall not exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the 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.
Contacted for comment over the shutdown, ICT Cabinet Secretary Mr Joe Mucheru said: “Switched off by who?”
“I am not talking to the media,” Mr Mucheru said curtly before hanging up his phone.
Meanwhile, some residents in Mombasa have criticised the government for switching off TV signals, with some saying it was a "threat to democracy".
Residents in Bangladesh, an Opposition stronghold, said they could not travel to Uhuru Park and had expected to watch it live on TV.
Mombasa and its environs remained calm.
In Kisii and Nyamira counties, residents said the move was a threat to democracy.
Mr Ezra Abiud, a tailor and Nasa supporter, said: “I am dismayed that I can’t watch the event live just because someone is interested in muzzling the media."
Mr William Onkoba said media outlets should be allowed to do their work.
“Why should someone think of taking us centuries back? It is wrong,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kazungu Samuel and Magati Obebo.