The Communications Authority of Kenya’s statement critical of the broadcast media’s coverage of the recent anti-government demonstrations is a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle these institutions by casting aspersions on their professional conduct.
The media are, indeed, solid institutions. They did not just spring up from nowhere and begin to cover such events.
The accusation that the media violated the Programming Code by covering the March 20 protests is an unacceptable attempt to dictate to professionals how to do their work.
One can already see a trend in this and recent pronouncements by pro-government leaders, who have attacked the media for doing their job.
This is an assault on the profession that we cannot accept, as patriotic Kenyans who are well-informed about the laws that govern our practice.
According to the CA, the coverage “depicted scenes that could cause panic or incitement to the public, threatening peace and cohesion in the country”.
The authority cannot purport to be better versed in media ethics than the professionals, whose watchdog role is enshrined in the Constitution.
It cannot issue notices without consultations and based on one event unless this is part of a plot to gag the media. Journalists are governed by professional ethics, which they adhere to in their operations.
The people have a right to know what is happening around them and how it affects them and they must not be denied this by an organisation issuing unilateral declarations.
If the CA, any individual or organisation has any complaint about the coverage of any event, they can file their grievances with the Media Complaints Commission or seek legal redress.
We agree with Katiba Institute that this is a threat to freedom of expression and information and of the media. Preventing the media from covering protests would enable riot police to get away with brutalising the people, knowing that nobody is recording this.
This country has made great strides in entrenching democracy and should not be dragged back into its repressive past. Any attempts to muzzle freedoms that the people fought so hard for must be rejected.