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Govt threatens to shut down vernacular radio

NAIROBI, June 25 – The government on Wednesday threatened to shut down vernacular Radio station KASS FM, citing incitement and lack of professional ethics.

In a letter dated June 24th, Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo ordered the station management to show cause why their license should not be withdrawn within 72 hours.

He accused the station of broadcasting material he said were prejudicial to National Security, National Cohesion, Peace and the Reconciliation process.

"It is noted that on several broadcasts aired by your station during the past few months and even including today (Tuesday), you failed, ignored or neglected to observe journalistic ethics and standards," part of the letter stated.

Ndemo accused the management of failing to ensure that programmes aired by the station do not incite the audiences, cause a breach of the peace, defame or otherwise upset individuals, groups, corporate bodies and or the state.

Also cited in Ndemo’s letter were telephone interviews made by callers and others by presenters on the controversial amnesty issue a section of politicians are demanding for suspects held over the post election violence.

Other major complaints are views expressed by callers over the recent by elections in Kilgoris and Ainamoi which the Information PS terms as outright incitement.

The government based its argument on Clause 11, Section C of the Second Schedule of the Media Act 2007, on the Code of Ethics and Conduct of Journalism which states; "News reports or commentaries should not be written or broadcast in a manner likely to inflame the passions, aggravate the tensions or accentuate the strained relations between the communities concerned. Equally so, articles or broadcasts with the potential to exacerbate communal trouble should be avoided".

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Two years ago, the station was shut by the government before it was allowed to resume broadcast services.

"The consequences of this irresponsible and inflammatory broadcast are likely to inflame passions and cause tensions, including fear and despondency, among large groups of listeners, especially among communities in the Rift Valley Province," Ndemo said in the letter addressed to the station’s Executive Chairman C.K Joshua.

The Vernacular Radio station issued a rejoinder Wednesday evening and defended itself against allegations of defamation and incitement.

In a letter addressed to Ndemo, the station’s management said their programmes were within the guidelines of the Ministry.

On the accusation of defamation and incitement, they said, “The right of fair comment is one of the fundamental rights of free speech and writing and it is of vital importance to the rule of law on which we depend for our personal freedom.”

“The issue in regard to amnesty of the youths is a public concern which had been already on the public domain and affected Kenyans. The topic of discussion was directly related to what was printed on newspapers that day,” they said.

Ndemo’s letter states that the programmes in reference did not augur well for the peace-building process in the country “and only helps to accentuate animosities among large groups of people.

Rift Valley was the worst affected province in the country with nearly more than half of the 350,000 displaced persons during the post election violence early this year.

Nearly 1,500 people were killed-many of them hacked, shot or burnt to death in their houses at the peak of the countrywide violence that was sparked by Presidential vote-rigging claims by Raila Odinga (Now Prime Minister) against President Mwai Kibaki.

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The crisis was later resolved by the former United Nation’s chief Kofi Annan who successfully mediated a power-sharing deal between Odinga’s party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU).

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