Kenyan activist seeks court to declare TV shutdown illegal

Thursday February 1 2018

Okiya Omtatah.

Kenyan human rights activist Okiya Omtatah. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By The EastAfrican
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A Kenyan activist has moved to court seeking a declaration that the switch off of three major television stations by the government is illegal and unconstitutional.

Mr Okiya Omtatah filed the petition on Thursday morning arguing that the shutdown of Nation Media Group's NTV, Royal Media's Citizen and Standard Group's KTN News is a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the media under Article 33 and 34 of the Constitution respectively.

The human rights defender wants the court to order the government to compensate the broadcasters for loss of advertising revenues since they were switched off on Tuesday morning.

Mr Omtatah also seeks damages for violation of his rights as a consumer and those of the media houses.

In the petition, Mr Omtatah has sued the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), the Information minister Joseph Mucheru, the Interior minister Fred Matiang'i and the Attorney-General Githu Muigai. Interested parties in the petition are the three broadcasters.

“Without warning and without giving any reasons, in the morning of 30th January, 2018, the Respondents switched off (shut down) free to air transmission on television channels owned by the first to third interested parties,” he said in the petition.

Millions lost

On Wednesday, Dr Matiang'i signalled that four television stations switched off could remain in the state of paralysis indefinitely as the government ‘investigates’ their participation in an “illegal act” of transmitting live broadcasts of the symbolic swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga as the ‘‘people’s president.’’

The fourth station is Inooro TV, a vernacular broadcaster also owned by Royal Media.

Dr Matiang’i claimed that the stations were bent on inciting violence that would have contributed to “a massacre of catastrophic proportions”. 

He said the media houses had been briefed of the security situation ahead of the event and would remain closed until the government completes its own inquiries into the matter.

The four stations affected — Citizen, Inooro, NTV and KTN News — account for more than 90 per cent of local TV viewership. State-broadcaster KBC and K24, associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, were spared the crackdown.

Consumers, however, still have access to content from the affected stations online.

The affected media houses are set to take a heavy financial hit in lost advertising revenues estimated at Ksh30 million (about $295,000) a day, according to data from pollster Ipsos Synovate in the first quarter of 2017.

Wachira Waruru, managing director of Royal Media Services, told Reuters news agency that his company was “making huge losses” and that he would be willing to go to court if necessary.

The shutdown of the press has been roundly condemned by human rights organisations and industry lobby groups.

-Reporting by Sam Kiplagat and Muthoki Mumo.