Hivos International

Hivos: Media shutdown in Kenya an affront to press freedom

Hivos condemns the shutdown of free to air television stations in Kenya (Nation TV, Kenya Television Network, Inooro TV and Citizen TV) and Inooro radio station on 30 January. This shutdown was ostensibly to stop live broadcasts of the ‘swearing in’ of Kenya’s opposition leader.

Kenya held its Presidential election in August 2017. A repeat poll was ordered by the Supreme Court of Kenya in September 2017 after it nullified the August election results. The main opposition contender, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the second election, and President Kenyatta was duly declared the elected President thereafter.

This shutdown, widely understood to have been carried out by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK), has not been supported by any justifiable limitation to media freedoms as provided by the various international and regional standards to which Kenya is a party. This unjustified action has instead deprived the majority of Kenyans, who are dependent on free to air services, of their right to receive information on issues impacting the nation.

This happened against the backdrop of a significant decline of press freedoms in Kenya since 2013, and most notably over the last 12 months. The media landscape continues to be characterised by inordinate political ownership of media interests, business versus public watchdog interests, and harassment, arrest and intimidation of media professionals. According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Kenya ranks at 95 out of 108 countries polled, scoring 45.95 points on press freedom out of a possible 100 points. Regionally in East Africa, the same unfortunate attacks on media and the right to information have been rampant, with clampdowns in Tanzania and Uganda in the recent past. The report further states that media freedom constraints and violations have risen by 14 percent worldwide in the last five years.

Yet, international and regional standards of freedom of expression provide that media freedoms cannot be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society. This limitation of freedom of expression must also meet a strict three-part test of clarity, specific purpose and necessity - with least restriction.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) has frequently indicated that Article 9 of the Banjul Charterreflects the fact that freedom of expression is a basic human right vital to an individual’s personal development, political consciousness and participation in the conduct of the public affairs of their country.”  Nationally, Article 34 of the Constitution of Kenya restrains the State from controlling or interfering with the broadcast of information through any medium.

Hivos condemns the Communications Authority of Kenya for its role in an unjustified nationwide shutdown of the media contrary to its powers and mandate. Such actions contravene what is enshrined in Kenya’s constitution regarding the right to information and human rights violations.

We further call on the Kenyan government to stop perpetuating an atmosphere of control and censorship over the media. Let the media independently determine the editorial content of their broadcasts or other communications in compliance with the law.

We strongly urge the government to reconsider such decisions in the future and re-confirm their commitment to media freedom and accountability to citizens.

Hivos believes freedom of expression- which media freedom is part of - is crucial in enabling an inclusive and open society where citizens can express themselves freely. Mass control of the media by the government goes against the ideals of a democracy.