The government’s decision to shut down private and independent television stations, including our own NTV, exposes yet again a deeply worrying intolerance and autocratic tendency that has become all too common since 2013.
Taken on the pretext of preventing the airing of an illegal activity, the government ended up committing an even bigger illegality because it was unconstitutional.
This unilateral decision amounted to an assault on the citizens’ right to know what was happening in their country.
The freedom of the media is not a token privilege that the government of the day can give and take at will.
It is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution, the very Constitution that the President and his administration have taken an oath to protect and uphold.
It, therefore, goes without saying that the gagging of private television stations is not only an affront on the citizen’s right to information — which is also enshrined in the Constitution — but on the Constitution itself and the rule of law.
Freedom of the media is protected in the supreme law of the land and it sends a grave signal for the government to suspend sections of the law that do not suit it in its battle of will with the opposition.
The media are not a party to this conflict.
They are the messenger representing the interests of the public because they are the custodians of the people’s right to information that is pertinent to their nationhood.
As the Kenya Editors’ Guild, the Law Society of Kenya, the Kenya Union of Journalists and the International Commission of Jurists pointed out, this new development, where the government can close down the media at will is both gravely alarming and points to a trend that portends ill for the country’s democratic credentials.
Indeed, it amounts to rolling back the human rights and democratic gains that were won at a high price by the people of Kenya, and which they bequeathed to themselves when the 2010 Constitution was promulgated.
The Jubilee administration must check its growing appetite for cracking down on independent and divergent voices.
By targeting the broadcasting stations, the government is bound to hurt the commercial interests of the private and independent media houses.
However, such censorship goes beyond mere commercial interests. It is also an attack on the freedom of association of Kenyans and is no different from the violation of citizen’s political rights.
Such action circumvents the rules of engagement enshrined in ordinary law and puts the media at the mercy of the government of the day.
In effect, the Communications Authority of Kenya acted as the judge, jury and executioner without giving the affected media houses the right to defend themselves.
This is not how democracy works. In plain language, it is the rule of the jungle; and it badly soils the country’s image abroad and the government’s at home, especially in this Internet age that makes it possible for broadcasting online and through social media platforms.
In the final analysis, it is self-defeating for the government to act in this manner because it amounts to over-reaching itself and over-reacting, and yet the message it intended to block will eventually reach the people.
Indeed, the action against the broadcasters was as ill-thought-out as it was reactionary and intolerant.
The government and the political leadership must take it their responsibility to respect the freedom of the media guaranteed in Article 34 of the Constitution and the right of the public to information as guaranteed in Article 35 and desist from outdated methods of repression of political and media freedoms.