Kenya’s government is threatening to withdraw the broadcast licence of
a local vernacular radio station for allegedly airing material that
endangered national security, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

In a letter to Kass FM, which broadcasts in the Kalenjin language, Information and Communications Permanent Secretary Dr Bitange Ndemo this week gave the station a 72-hour ultimatum to show cause why the license should not be cancelled.

The letter said: “It has come to the attention of the government that KASS FM has been involved in broadcasting material that is prejudicial to national security, national cohesion and national peace.”

The letter referred to a section of the Broadcasting Act which states that news, reports and 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.

According to the letter, Kass FM is further accused of failing to live up to journalistic standards. “In several broadcasts aired by your station during the past few months and even including today, you failed, ignored or neglected to observe journalistic ethics and standards.”

Bitange, in the same letter, said the government had previously filed complaints with the Media Council of Kenya, which he said the radio station had ignored.

According to him, the station on May 31, 2008 aired a programme that suggested members of a certain community were fighting for their democratic rights during the post-election fighting and, therefore, did not require amnesty.

The government further said programmes being aired by the radio station were likely to inflame passions and despondency. “The consequence of this irresponsible and inflammatory broadcast is likely to cause tensions, including fear and despondency,” said Bitange.

“The government reserves the right to prescribe such conditions as are deemed necessary for safeguarding peace and national security. While the government upholds the freedom of expressions, it is expected that broadcasts shall balance this freedom and responsibility,” the letter added.

According to it, the government has held a series of meetings with the station’s officials before and the issue was raised besides sending warning notes.

“Your station lacks classical attitude in the face of the most dire warnings and cautionary notes from the government. You will also recall that on several occasions we have held meetings with government officials where these issues were brought to your attention,” he said.

If implemented, the move would be the first time the government has shut down a radio station in recent years.

It could also be a sign of increasing intolerance in the country, which is presently undergoing a fragile national healing and reconciliation process after clashes sparked by a disputed presidential election results last December nearly sunk Kenya into civil strife.