Civil society, KUJ accuse Chiloba of gagging press

Communications Authority of Kenya CEO Ezra Chiloba. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Civil society organisations and professional bodies have warned that turning off television stations during protests will violate human rights and endanger Kenyans’ lives.

The groups warned Communications Authority of Kenya CEO Ezra Chiloba that his threats to gag media over how they cover the opposition were against the law and would allow trigger-happy police officers to abuse protesters.

On Thursday, Katiba Institute demanded that CA revokes the unconstitutional notice sent to six media houses, saying it curtails media freedom.

The institute also demanded copies of letters sent to the media houses as well as minutes and recordings of the authority meeting at which they made the unconstitutional decision.

“Your decision endangers the lives of Kenyans because it would enable a trigger-happy Kenya National Police Service to operate in darkness,” said Katiba Institute’s Ochiel Dudley in a letter to CA.

Mr Ochiel demanded that they revoke the notice to broadcasters, which threatened to revoke licences and frequencies of media houses claiming they do not observe its guidelines on coverage of demonstrations.

“The authority has established that at least six TV stations, namely, Citizen TV, NTV, K24, KBC, TV47 and Ebru TV, provided coverage in a manner that violated the Programming Code,” Chiloba’s statement on live coverage of opposition demonstrations on March 20, 2023, read.

“The coverage depicted scenes that could cause panic or incitement among the public, threatening peace and cohesion in the country. Failure to adhere to the outlined obligations shall be acting in breach of license conditions, which shall attract liability under relevant provisions of revocation of broadcast license and broadcast frequencies.”

Kenya Union of Journalists secretary general Eric Oduor said CA’s notice was bad for the nation and called on the government to respect the Constitution.

“KUJ is opposed to the notice from the Communications Authority and wants media houses to treat it with the contempt it deserves,” he said.

Ochiel said the notice is a threat to cohesion and unity. “We remind you of many High Court decisions forbidding limiting media freedom on grounds like the ones in your letter,” he added.

The groups said the decision is a throwback to the era of State-sponsored censorship and a presumption that the Kenyan public is not adult enough for the marketplace of ideas.

“We see your action as a threat to freedom of expression, information, and the media and a repetition of the 2018 TV shutdown by the CA,” their letter added. 

Azimio leader Raila Odinga on Thursday called out the Communications Authority, saying they are being used by the government to intimidate the media.

He said this was tantamount to killing democracy.

“Mr Ezra chiloba issued an illegal and unconstitutional order censuring the media and threatening sanctions for their truthful reporting of our demonstrations. We agree with democrats around the globe that democracy dies in darkness.

“With this action Mr Ruto is opening the full dictator’s playbook to kill Kenya’s democracy. We in Azimio will not and cannot allow Ruto to take us to the dark days of yesterday,” he said.