Kenya: Ban On Live Broadcasts By Ministry Was Illegal

Regulation & Policy

The ban on live broadcasts slapped on December 30, last year was illegal, the Waki report says. Even as the Ministry of Information and Communication asked media houses to desist from live broadcasts concerning politics, it had no way of fully enforcing its demand legally, it adds.

"Instead, in the end, it was the Ministry of Internal Security which told the Ministry of Information it wanted to invoke Section 88 of the Kenyan Communications Act, to which the latter complied," says the Waki report.

The inquiry heard testimonies on the role of the media in the violence from the Attorney-General Amos Wako, Information PS Bitange Ndemo and the Editors' Guild chairman, Macharia Gaitho.

In his testimony, the AG stated emphatically that "the ban was not proper", was unconstitutional, and "definitely illegal". He conveyed the same in writing to the above ministries, says the report.

But, Dr Ndemo told the commission that the live broadcast of vote tallying of the election results at KICC and the visible acrimony of political leaders inflamed tensions, bringing "the country to the brink". He added that media houses took sides in the run up to the polls and there were complaints that "most editors had been compromised".

Also, "some media houses became sensational and unnecessarily alarmed their audiences and inflamed their passions". In contrast to the PS, Gaitho said cutting off live airing from KICC "contributed much more to raising tension than continuing those broadcasts, because then people started wondering what is happening".

The PS said that his ministry was being criticised unfairly on all sides: initially for not having done anything to curb all the hate speech on radio and then later for banning live transmissions, which it also felt were fuelling violence.

Media houses, politicians and the civil society lashed out at the Government arguing that, it amounted to gagging of the media. However, the Waki team notes that it could not find evidence directly linking the media to the chaos. It has also warned against monitoring of the media by State agents.

Despite the media being consistently blamed for fuelling chaos, the commission says it would not recommend monitoring of the press and other media. This, it adds, would have the negative potential of taking the country back to the draconian days of a State-controlled media.

"However, the Commission does believe that speech in the media, including in vernacular FM radio stations, aiming to foment ethnic hatred and/or incite, organise, or plan for violence should be investigated thoroughly in a timely fashion when it occurs," says the report. The commission received testimonies of inflammatory broadcasts by some media outlets especially vernacular FM stations.

"Many recalled with horror, fear, and disgust the negative and inflammatory role of vernacular radio stations in their testimony and statements to the Commission," the report says. Most of the evidence singled out Kass FM, a Kalenjin radio station, as having contributed to a climate of hate, negative ethnicity, and having incited violence in the Rift Valley. Other FM stations named are Inooro (Kikuyu), Kameme (Kikuyu), Bahasha (Kikuyu) and Nam Lolwe (Luo).

The Nation (Nairobi) 17 October 2008