Court orders Kenya TV stations restored

Blank screens of Kenya's leading television stations NTV, CITIZEN and KTN and a live K24 one at the Nation Media Group newsroom on Tuesday The Communications Authority switched off the stations safe for the state-owned KBC and K24, which is associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

The High Court in Nairobi has ordered the government to immediately restore all TV transmissions for three private stations which were shut down on Tuesday pending the hearing of a suit filed by activist Okiya Omtatah.

Justice Chacha Mwita also issued temporary orders barring the government from interfering with all television transmissions until the case is heard on February 14.

Other than seeking to restore transmission for NTV, KTN News and Citizen TV, Mr Omtatah wants the court to compel the government to compensate the media houses for the shutdown which started on January 30.

Mr Omtatah moved to court seeking an order that the switch off of the TV stations is illegal and against the Constitution.

The activist argued that the move by the State to shut down the TV stations is a violation of Article 33 and 34 of the Constitution.
He also argued that the government was exposing the taxpayers to costs as a result of the shutdown.

He wants the court to issue an order compelling the government to compensate the TV stations for monetary losses incurred during the switch off as well as general damages for violation of his rights as a consumer of the media content.

Mr Omtatah argued that there is an immediate cause for concern over the constitutionality of the government’s action of switching off the television signals.

“Without warning and without giving any reasons, on the morning of 30th January 2018, the respondents switched off free-to-air transmission [for] television channels owned by the 1st to 3rd interested parties,” he said in his petition.

He argued that Article 33(1) guarantees every person the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas.

Also, the public's right to information under Article 35 is directly affected since the switch off curtailed the public’s right of access to information broadcast by the three media houses.

Meanwhile, NTV’s Linus Kaikai, Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu have moved to court seeking to bar their imminent arrest and prosecution by State.

On Wednesday evening, police officers surrounded Nation Centre, the headquarters of the Nation Media Group, as they sought to arrest the three.

NMG Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi termed the government's move to shut down three private TV stations as "a sad moment for media freedom in Kenya".

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.

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