History of media crackdown in Kenya

Clampdown of broadcast makes a mockery of media purge of yesteryears

Tuesday’s indefinite shutdown of three national television stations has no match in Kenya’s independence history.

Happening in a highly liberalised and globalised era, the clampdown makes a mockery of the media purge of yesteryear’s.

Unilaterally ordered by Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i against the backdrop of an expanded Constitution, new institutions and highly informed citizenry, the shutdown has left everyone- including the media - dazed.

Five days today, and the stations remain closed despite court orders, demands for re-opening and pleas from the international community.

In brutality terms, however, the shutdown cannot size up to the raid against Standard Group in 2006 which involved hired mercenaries, burning of newsprint and confiscation of broadcasting equipment.

The attack was a widely condemned affair which not only shamed the government but had immense political ramifications for the country in years that followed.

Former US President Barack Obama, then Illinois Senator checked in at the Standard Group in solidarity with the company.

Like the present clampdown, the 2006 raid was sanctioned by a ruthless Internal Security Minister, the late John Michuki. Like Dr Matiang’i, the late minister had first won huge public approval by restoring order in transport sector before he turned his fangs on the media.

Matiang’i is smarting from high public approval ratings for restoring order in the education sector.

A year had barely passed when the then First Lady Lucy Kibaki stormed the Nation Media Group demanding the arrest of a reporter who had written a story about her. In the ensuing melee which roped in regional police bosses, she slapped a cameraman and confiscated a notebook from a reporter.

Other than a nightlong lecture administered on weary scribes locked inside the newsroom, the raid had nothing much to report about. It also imposed immortal fear on journalists who dared report on first family matters.

Four years later, Lucy was at it again reminding a KTN reporter that he almost raided their station following adverse reports on her family. This was the time when former President Kibaki declared that he had only one wife and four children.

Before these post-2002 incidents, the media had experienced a fair share of raids in Kanu days but they were not any this pitiless. The rounds of shutdown of Royal Media Service’s Citizen TV when it was starting off in early 2000 were as dramatic as was the resilience of its founder SK Macharia.

It entailed destruction of masts, confiscation of equipment and harassment of staff. Eventually, the waters found their level and Citizen TV went on to become one of the biggest players in the industry after KTN.

In the 80s and 90s, anti-media purges zeroed on individual journalists while the institutions were spared to learn and thrive. Newspapers were banned from reporting in Parliament.

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