The High Court has suspended the order directing the top three television stations – NTV, KTN and Citizen TV – to remain off air, pending determination of a case filed by activist Okiya Omtatah.
Justice Chacha Mwita further ordered the Communication Authority (CA) to restore the television stations signals and that the government ceases to interfere with local media as the matter awaits hearing on February 14.
The three stations were switched off on Tuesday morning after defying a government order not to produce live proceedings at Uhuru Park where NASA leader Raila Odinga was later in the day “sworn in” as the “People’s President.”
Justice Mwita said the conservatory orders will remain until the matter is heard and determined on February 14. He certified the case as urgent.
Omtatah moved to court challenging government move of shutting down three major TV stations. He wants the court to compel the relevant authorities to restore the transmission of the affected stations.
Omtatah has sued Cabinet Secretaries Joe Mucheru (ICT) and Fred Matiang’i (Interior). He wants the court to direct the government to restore live transmission of NTV, Citizen, and KTN with immediate effect.
The order came as pressure continued to mount on the government to rescind its decision to shut down the TV stations and stop intimidating journalists. Five civil society organisations have asked the State to unconditionally restore TV transmission for three stations that it shut on Tuesday.
The organisations also condemned Wednesday evening events where police officers surrounded Nation Centre, the headquarters of the Nation Media Group, as they sought to arrest NTV’s Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu.
Speaking during a press briefing on Thursday, NMG Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi termed the government move as “a sad moment for media freedom in Kenya.”
“As the fraternity that we are in, together with the civil society organisations, we must stand very firm together because if we don’t, we will perish. We will go back to the days we don’t want to even remember,” Mr Mshindi said..
Mr Mshindi spoke alongside leaders of the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights (KNCHR), Amnesty International, the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya, Article 19 and Katiba Institute.
The organisations said in a joint statement that the government’s closure of TV stations is “a serious threat to the freedom of the media at a delicate political situation in the country”.
“We call on the authorities to stop intimidating the mass media and unconditionally restore the right of Kenyan citizens to a free press. Journalism is not a crime. The government must respect our Constitution at all times,” they said in a statement read by KNCHR’s vice chair George Morara.
Mr Henry Maina, the regional director of Article 19 Eastern Africa, asked the government to use legal means if it has a matter to address with the media.
“You can’t switch off a TV then say you have started investigations. What made you switch it off? If you didn’t know there was a reason, then let them return on air,” he said.
Mr Houghton Irungu, the executive director of Amnesty International Kenya, also demanded that the Communication Authority director-general Francis Wangusi be admitted back to office as directed by a court.
At the briefing, it emerged that the journalists’ union is planning legal action against various State actors.
“We are going to have multiple applications in court. Some of the applications are going to target individuals who are giving all these orders to police and even the Communications Authority,” Eric Oduor, the secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Journalists said.
Mr Maina added: “There are going to be multiple applications by different actors; some who are here, and some who are elsewhere because we are clear that if we do not engage into this process legally, then there is going to be a problem.”
– Additional reporting by Daily Nation.