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High Court Suspends CA Decision to Censure Six TV Stations for Coverage of Opposition Demonstrations

In a significant ruling, the High Court of Kenya at Nairobi has suspended the decision by the Communications Authority (CA) to censure six television stations for their coverage of opposition demonstrations held last Monday. This suspension came after the court recognized the substantial issues raised by the petition filed by the Katiba Institute, the Law Society of Kenya, and various journalist unions.

Context and Background.


The case, formally cited as “Katiba Institute and 5 Others vs Communications Authority of Kenya and State Law” (Case Number: HCJR/E041/2023), was heard at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi. The petitioners moved the court through a Chamber Summons dated March 24, 2023, supported by a Certificate of Urgency. They invoked several legal provisions, including Article 47 of the Constitution, sections of the Fair Administrative Actions Act, 2015, the Law Reform Act, Cap 26, and the Civil Procedure Rules, 2010.

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Grounds for the Petition.


The petitioners argued that the CA’s decision to censure the television stations was not only hasty but also a blatant violation of constitutional rights, particularly the freedom of the press and the public’s right to information. The Verifying Affidavit of Lempaa Suyianka and the accompanying Statutory Statement emphasized the urgency and arguable nature of the case, necessitating immediate judicial intervention.

Judicial Findings.


Upon reviewing the application and its annexures, Justice J. Chigiti noted that the application presented an urgent and arguable case with weighty issues that needed to be heard and determined on their merits. Exercising discretion under Order 53 of the Civil Procedure Rules, the court issued several key directions:

Granting of Leave: The court granted leave for the application as requested in prayer 2 of the Chamber Summons.

Stay of CA’s Decision: The leave granted was to operate as a stay of the CA’s decision to censure the TV stations, effectively suspending the censure until the case is heard and determined.

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Timelines for Submissions: The court directed that the substantive motion be filed and served within 14 days from the date of the ruling. The respondents were also given 14 days from the date of service of the applicant’s motion to file and serve their responses.

Written Submissions: The case was to be disposed of by way of written submissions. The applicants were to file and serve their submissions within three days of receiving the respondents’ submissions, who, in turn, had three days to file their own submissions.

Page Limit: All submissions were to be limited to ten pages.

Further Directions: The motion would be mentioned on May 10, 2023, for further directions.

Implications of the Ruling.


The ruling is a critical juncture in the ongoing tension between media freedom and regulatory oversight in Kenya. The CA’s initial decision to censure the television stations sparked widespread outrage among journalists, civil society groups, and the general public. The CA had accused the stations of biased and inflammatory reporting during the opposition demonstrations, which had led to public unrest and property damage.

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However, media watchdogs and press freedom advocates argued that the CA’s actions were an attempt to stifle dissent and control the narrative around the demonstrations. They emphasized that the media’s role in a democratic society includes holding power to account and providing a platform for diverse viewpoints.

Reactions from Stakeholders.


Following the High Court’s ruling, the Katiba Institute and other petitioners expressed relief and optimism. They reiterated their commitment to defending constitutional freedoms and ensuring that regulatory bodies do not overstep their mandates.

The Law Society of Kenya also welcomed the ruling, noting that it was a step towards protecting the rule of law and ensuring that administrative actions comply with constitutional standards.

Conclusion.


The suspension of the CA’s decision marks a temporary victory for media freedom in Kenya. As the case proceeds, it will undoubtedly attract significant attention, setting a precedent for how regulatory actions against the press are scrutinized in the judicial system. The upcoming hearing on May 10, 2023, will be closely watched by all stakeholders as they await further directions from the court.

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