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GOVERNMENT IMPOSES NEWS BLACKOUT

The Media Institute in Kenya and 22 other IFEX members have condemned the Kenyan government's decision to ban live TV and radio broadcasts in response to post-election violence.

The government announced the indefinite live broadcast ban on 30 December, as violent protests erupted after President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected for another five years amid allegations of vote-rigging.

"The news blackout could result in the streets being ruled by rumour and disinformation," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says. "It imposes a climate of intimidation and plunges the country into confusion."

The information minister said the suspension had been ordered "in the interest of public safety and tranquillity." According to government reports, nearly 500 people have died and more than 250,000 have fled their homes as a result of the post-election violence. The opposition says the riots may have killed up to 1,000 people.

IFEX members say the ban deprives the public of important developments. "The directive has the ultimate effect of gagging the media and freedom of expression at a critical moment in our nation's democratic process," says the Media Institute. "It targets the voices of those who may be aggrieved by the outcome of the election and is intended to put a lid on the expression of that grievance."

Most of the broadcast media have complied with the directive. One privately-owned station, Kiss FM, is continuing to broadcast a phone-in programme. According to RSF, local journalists say news is now circulating mainly by SMS messages.

The Media Institute and 22 other IFEX members are calling on the Kenyan government to revoke the "dictatorial" ban immediately and unconditionally and to work together with media organisations to reach an amicable resolution that serves both "national security and the public interest."

In an unprecedented move, media groups from across the political spectrum shared a common headline on 3 January, "Save Our Beloved Country". Both electronic and print media dedicated their lead stories to condemning the post-election violence and appealing for peace, in an initiative led by Kenya's Media Council.

Visit these links:
- IFEX joint action: http://tinyurl.com/3y8t8z
- Media Institute (email): mediainst(@)wananchi(.)com
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=24913
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/2v9fy9
- International Press Institute: http://tinyurl.com/2pagjr
- Eastern Africa Journalists Association (email): eaja(@)intnet(.)dj
- "Save our Beloved Country" editorial in "The Daily Nation", Kenya's biggest newspaper: http://tinyurl.com/3xl7q4
(14 January 2008)

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