EDITORIAL: TV stations’ shutdown an ominous act

Tuesday February 6 2018

Blank TV screens

Blank screens of leading television stations NTV, Citizen and KTN with only K24 TV live at the Nation newsroom on January 30, 2018. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By The EastAfrican
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The sight of media managers spending the night in the Nation TV newsroom to avoid arrest has raised fears that the democracy clock in Kenya may have turned back a generation.

Three major national broadcasting stations had earlier on Tuesday been shut and court orders on Thursday for their re-opening were yet to be complied with. This is, however, a footnote to the header that is the shrinking space for expression of dissenting opinion in Kenya, a bad habit that East African countries appear to be entrenching.

That the courts have in most cases risen to the defence of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution offers some hope. However, when the rights are infringed on or trampled upon by the Executive that recently swore to defend and protect the same Constitution, then hope for a free society, itself a requisite for active engagement in the economy, is lost.  

The only solace, perhaps, is from history which has proven that muzzling of the media can only guarantee regimes false comfort and only for a while. Sooner rather than later, the repression incubates underground dissent which later finds expression through social upheaval.

Kenya was on the brink before multiparty democracy was reinstated in 1992 and, after it was found that this was no guarantee for human rights, media freedom and inclusion a new Constitution was promulgated in 2010 after two decades of struggle.

We hope and call on President Uhuru Kenyatta not to turn back the clock on human rights and media freedom, more so as he works on inscribing his legacy on the wall of posterity. Kenya has earned international acclaim for embedding a liberal Bill of Rights into its Constitution and it would be a grave injustice for government to deviate from the letter of the supreme law of the land.

While the Executive may have had its grievances for ordering the indefinite switch off of the independent media stations regarding the impact of live coverage of the symbolic but mock swearing-in of opposition leader Raila Odinga, it would have scored more through persuasion rather than belligerence.

In one flexing of state muscles, a government which had won validation from the international community for its tolerance during the testing two rounds of elections last year, is now being placed in the bad company of countries that shut down media for purely political expediency.

Why the government had to resort to emergency laws in peace time is hard to comprehend despite attempts at explanation that it touched on matters of national security.

Questions linger why the shutdown was not lifted after the event or why a court order to the same effect was not been complied with, until Monday, and why state agents had the temerity to block a bailiff from serving the orders on the Communications Authority.

The manner in which the government is going about asserting itself is causing despondency among the public, could trigger violence and drive away investors. This is not a good way to begin a new term in office.