Katiba Institute condemns Chiloba letter to TV stations over Azimio protests

CA Director General Ezra Chiloba

Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Director General Ezra Chiloba. CA says six TV stations violated the Programming Code during the coverage of opposition demos on Monday

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Katiba Institute, a Kenyan civic rights promotion group, has written to the Communications Authority of Kenya demanding revocation of its decision to censure six TV stations over alleged violation of the media Programming Code during coverage of mass protests called by opposition leader Raila Odinga on Monday.

The group said the decision of CA is unconstitutional and a threat to freedom of expression of the media.

Through lawyer Dudley Ochiel, the group also said that CA's intention to revoke broadcast license or broadcast frequencies of the media stations would aid trigger-happy police officers to operate in darkness.

Mr Ochiel further stated that the decision of CA was also unlawful because there are various rulings by the High Court forbidding limiting media freedom on vague grounds.

"We see your action as a threat to freedom of expression, information, and of the media and a repetition of the 2018 TV shutdown by you. Your decision endangers life because it would enable the trigger-happy Kenyan National Police Service to operate in darkness. That would be the real threat to peace and cohesion in the country," said Mr Ochiel.

The CA Director-General Ezra Chiloba had in a statement claimed that six TV stations including NTV, Citizen, K24, KBC, TV47 and Ebru Africa violated the Programming Code during coverage of the demonstrations as "the coverage depicted scenes that could cause panic or incitement to the public, threaten peace and cohesion in the country".

He asked all broadcasters to ensure compliance adding that it was "imperative all broadcasters exercise caution in live broadcast coverage to avoid scenes that would be detrimental to peace and cohesion".

"Take note that failure to adhere to the outlined obligations shall be acting in breach of license conditions, which shall attract liability under relevant provisions of the law including revocation of broadcast license or/and broadcast frequencies," said Mr Chiloba.

But Katiba Institute said the letter intends to take the country back to State-sponsored censorship.

"We think that your decision is a throwback to the era of state-sponsored censorship and a presumption that the Kenyan public is not adult enough for the market place of ideas. Thus your prior-censorship of live TV broadcasts. We remind you of the many High Court decisions forbidding limiting media freedom on vague grounds like the ones in your letter," said Mr Ochiel.

He asked CA to revoke the "unconstitutional" communication within 24 hours and share with Katiba Institute minutes and recordings of the CA's meeting at which the authority made the disputed decision. Katiba also want to be given copies of the letters sent to the six media houses.