Nairobi — Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo has cautioned against politicising the disabling of 17 Royal Media Services (RMS) transmitters by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) on Saturday.
Ndemo instead accused politicians of inciting the public when they claim the move was a ploy to rig the elections.
"It wasn't proper for most of our politicians to make comments on this because the matter is actually in court and to actually tell a blatant lie that we are shutting down this station. It is actually fuelling the citizens to rise up against something that is not there."
The National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring added their voice to Ndemo's at a press briefing on Wednesday saying, "We want to appeal to Kenyans not to politicise the shutting down of the illegal frequencies. We also want to urge politicians to desist from incitement and hate speech over the shutting down of the frequencies."
"We are very concerned over statements spewing hate such as 'this is the beginning of rigging'," the committee's secretary and the Director of Public Communications Mary Ombara said at a press briefing on Wednesday.
The Jubilee coalition's presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto were the first to condemn the disabling of RMS transmitters at a rally on Saturday.
"We want all the media to be free. We do not want to hear that there is anyone being harassed. We want the press to be free to cover and to give a factual report," Kenyatta said.
Ruto echoed his sentiments; "We want the Ministry of Information to desist from interfering with any media house because we have freedom of information in our country and Citizen have a right like any other station to broadcast and if they (CCK) have issues they should use the right channels of law."
Presidential aspirant Peter Kenneth also read mischief in the disabling of the transmitters, "I've heard previously that certain politicians have sworn to deal with Royal Media Services. I hope it is not the start because freedom of expression, freedom of broadcasting must be very well protected."
The CORD presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, made his voice heard at a rally in Kisii on Monday: "The other day they went and disabled RMS transmitters. Those are plans to rig the coming elections."
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) was represented at the press briefing by its vice-chairperson Milly Lwanga who clarified that the statements made by politicians in defence of RMS cannot be classified as hate speech but urged politicians to exercise discretion as they carry out their campaigns.
"This is an elective period where emotions run high. It is very good that Kenyans across the board are talking about issues of cohesion and hate speech but the concern we have is that the definition of hate speech is being skewed."
"You will find for example people are defining insults as hate speech. We have tried to issue guidelines as to what hate speech is as defined by the law because we cannot operate outside the law."
The CCK has defended itself against claims that its actions are aimed at curtailing access to information. The commission's secretary, John Omo, reiterated that the commission's actions were in no way linked to the March 4 general elections.
"Impunity is something Kenyans need to deal with. For as long as we think we can take the law into our hands because we can use the law courts or use our political connections or use our neighbourly connections to undertake illegal activities for that long then impunity will be here with us."
RMS risks having another 22 of its frequencies shut down following a five year court battle should its appeal of a ruling given in favour of CCK on January 19 be denied.
"We've had quite a long drawn court battle with that media house in respect of 22 other frequencies that are still the subject of a court matter that were also appropriated by that media house without the authority of the CCK," Omo added.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority's (KCAA) Director of Safety and Security, Cpt. Joe Mutungi, supported CCK's move at Wednesday's press briefing saying the frequencies interfered with communication between pilots and the control tower.
"Airplanes have been landing slightly off the runway and I think the latest was last year. Egypt Air landed off the runway so we are investigating whether it could be weather or such radio interference."