RSF: “Kenya Blackout Breeds Rumour and Disinformation”

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The information dirty wars: Election observers have cited unchecked use of state resources in favor of the incumbent campaign, including allegations that the pamphlet shown above was produced by the Government Printing Office. Was it? And did Odinga have such a meeting? Checking.

Another important issue for the future of the Kenyan press is the extensive cross-media ownership in Kenya, with certain media houses owning newspapers, television stations and radio stations. Questions should be asked about the motives of media owners with political and business interests and the concentration of media outlets in politically influential hands is a threat to the objectivity of the press. –Guy Collender, “The Media in Kenya” (The Stanhope Centre, undated)

Kenyan media, ordered by the government to halt live broadcasting during an election crisis, are censoring the opposition while still covering government activities, the head of the industry’s association complained.

Reporters sans frontières warns of the danger that David “Fear and Misinformation Abound” Sasaki-style fear, uncertainty and doubt will result from what it calls a “dangerous and counter-productive” news blackout imposed by the Kenyan government.

Warning the government of the dangers of the ban on live radio and TV news reports that it announced yesterday, Reporters Without Borders today condemned the climate of fear imposed on the privately-owned media in the wake of Kenya’s disputed presidential election.

Charges have been made — the presidential challenger, Odinga, to DER SPIEGEL, most notably so far — and reinforced by spotty, anecdotal reports, that police are killing unarmed civilians indiscriminately in some, perhaps many, cases.

On the notion that freedom to observe, investigate and depict police conduct and misconduct is a form of antisocial behavior — “apology for crime” and “incitement to social disorder” — see also

In August, RSF was hailing the incumbent president of Kenya as a Hero of World Press Freedom. “Hailing” is not my word. It is RSF’s.

Reporters Without Borders hails President Mwai Kibaki refusal yesterday to sign a media bill into law on the grounds that a last-minute amendment limiting the confidentiality of sources posed a threat to press freedom.

Now, RSF warns:

“The news blackout could result in the streets being ruled by rumour and disinformation,” the press freedom organisation said. “This decision is therefore counter-productive, inasmuch as it constitutes a de facto ban on all news programmes, it imposes a climate of intimidation and plunges the country into confusion. We call on the government to talk to media executives and editors and to let them work freely so that the public is properly informed.”

Michuki, who issued the ban on live broadcasting, also ordered a “shoot to kill” order for police detailed to riot control, three police sources have told The Hindu.

Michuki, I believe, lost his seat in the election, which would mean he would no longer be eligble to serve in Kenyan’s British-style parliamentary system.

Internal security minister John Michuki announced the live broadcast ban shortly after President Mwai Kibaki was proclaimed winner of the controversial election. The information and communication minister said the “suspension of live broadcasts” had been ordered “in the interest of public safety and tranquillity.” A government press release said : “In the prevailing environment, some people are using the media to call for violence and to incite members of the public to engage in violence.”

I tried to find the government press release service on its Web site, but could not manage to.

Most of the broadcast media suspended all their news programmes, effectively plunging Kenya into a news blackout. Local broadcast journalists said they were afraid the police could raid their stations and order them to close. One privately-owned station, Kiss FM, is continuing to broadcast a phone-in programme. Two TV journalists with privately-owned K24 were attacked by protesters while covering demonstrations yesterday.

Reuters is reporting that the MOA is accusing some stations, including K24, of taking a pro-incumbent (pro-coup) line here.

An initial meeting was held between the Media Owners Association and the government this morning. Wachira Waruru, the head the Media Council (a press regulatory body), described the ban as “draconian” and said it threatened press freedom.

A press regulatory body?

Is it a government agency or a self-regulatory body? It describes itself as follows:

The stakeholders involved with the Media Council of Kenya came together as the Media Industry Steering Committee (MISC) in 2000 to look into issues of media conduct and professionalism. The formation of MISC was prompted by the proliferation of the alternative press that was seen operating with no ethical standards and a lack of professionalism that resulted in the renewed threat of government control of the media

Reuters also quotes the head of the MOA:

“I wish to express my disgust with how some of my members have handled the live ban,” Hannington Gaya, chairman of Kenya’s 20-member Media Owners’ Association, said late on Tuesday. He said some members applied the law “selectively”, stopping coverage of Ralia Odinga’s opposition Orange Democratic Movement while continuing to cover Kibaki’s Party of National Unity.

Is the ban more “draconian” for some than for others?

He named state broadcaster KBC and a privately-owned channel, K24, as being among the culprits. The head of news of K24, John Mwenda, rejected the charge: “We have done our best to be balanced. It is really a matter of his (Gaya’s) perception and how people want to see things.” He said his station aired more stories about Kibaki’s party because it was more active after the ban than the opposition.

“For our friends, anything; for our enemies, the Law?”

Media watchers should try to collect some hard information on that question. Past EU EOM reports, in partnership with a domestic network of election observers, have done a credible job of trying to measure this using fairly clear criteria for what constitutes “positive,” “neutral” and “negative” coverage:

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RSF resumes:

The situation is tense, with deadly clashes being reported in Nairobi and several provincial cities. Local journalists said news was now circulating mainly by means of SMS messages. Kiss FM host Caroline Mutoko asked listeners not to cite Kiss FM as the source of reports in their SMS messages because it was not true and because it could result in the station being closed.

Deadly clashes between or among whom? Agency-neutral descriptions of violence — “violent clashes kill x persons” — contributes to the diffusion of responsibility and the domino theory of moral nonresponsiblity.

There are charges that police are using deadly force on unarmed or lightly armed persons. They cannot be substantiated because — well, you just read why.

But they urgently need to be.

Kenya’s police are problematic.

And now there is no one to report on what they are getting up to, except for foreign journalists whose reporting, as far as I can see, is principally based on (anonymous senior) police sources.

But in the run-up to the elections, the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission cited cases of highly selective police responses to election-related violence:

Whereas the police have in some instances been fairly responsive to incidences of electoral violence, the KNCHR is nonetheless concerned by the failure of the police to contain the recurrent acts of violence. This was the case in Kuresoi and Mt Elgon where information on impending attacks had been relayed to the police several days before actual violence erupted, but no immediate action was taken. Between 20/7/07 and 25/11/07, the KNCHR contacted the police after receiving information of impending attacks from our monitors and residents of Kuresoi and Mt.Elgon.

An illustrative case is the fresh wave of violence that erupted in Kuresoi on 28/11/07 leading to several deaths and massive internal displacement. Two days before the attack, the KNCHR, contacted the Police and the Provincial Administration in Rift Valley after receiving information that groups of youths suspected to be raiders had been spotted in Tiloa Forest.

At the time, raiders struck Murinduko village on the morning of 28/11/07, there were only two police officers. The officers were reportedly overwhelmed by the over 100 armed raiders who launched concurrent attacks from different directions. Two people were killed by the raiders while scores of others sustained fatal injuries.

It is instructive to note that the attacks took place when President Mwai Kibaki was addressing campaign rallies in the neighbouring Molo constituency. The KNCHR was informed by KNCHR monitors on the ground that most of the police officers in the area (including all senior police officers) had been deployed to provide security at the presidential rallies.

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