Three NTV journalists spent Wednesday night at the Nation Media Group headquarters at Nation Center to avoid arrest by plainclothes police officers who had surrounded the building waiting for them.
Linus Kaikai, NTV’s general manager and journalists Larry Madowo and Ken Mijungu got wind of plans to arrest them on Wednesday evening as they prepared for the evening news bulletin. The events that would follow later that night would be remembered by the Kenyan media fraternity in many days to come.
The three journalists can confirm that they indeed slept on the floor of one of NTV’s studios on mattresses procured by the media group when it became apparent that the cat-and-mouse game would play into the night. Their worried wives and family members brought them a change of clothes as their colleagues came through with dinner – which they cheekily christened “the last supper” for the three journalists.
Speaking to the Daily Nation in his office at the Nation Center, a bold and calm Mr Kaikai narrated what transpired, amidst numerous interruptions by phone calls from worried friends and international media organizations seeking an interview.
The three spent the better part of Thursday morning consulting with lawyers, human rights activists and answering questions from a battery of journalists – both foreign and local. At some point, our interview was interrupted for the umpteenth time to watch a CNN story on the same matter.
“I am a journalist. Journalists don’t fear. If you are a journalist and you fear, then you are not a journalist. Fear is for someone else, not a journalist,” Kaikai said.
Only a few hours before, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i had announced that the three television stations – NTV, KTN and Citizen TV – would remain closed until investigations into subversion allegations would be completed.
The three television stations were shut down on Tuesday by the Communications Authority of Kenya following their live broadcast of Raila Odinga’s swearing in as the “people’s president”.
Dr. Matiang’i also said that they would investigate individual journalists and media organizations. “We have commenced a wide scale investigation targeting individuals and organizations who include but may not limited to certain media houses. We will act decisively, but strictly according to the law.”
On Wednesday evening, when it became apparent that the three journalists were under siege, it did not take long before the news hit social media.
It was interesting that even some of the harshest critics of journalists and media came out in support of these journalists, sending out tweets of allegiance and encouragement to the journalists who had been holed up on the fifth floor of the Nation Center “twin towers.”
Journalists from other media organizations put their rivalries and ideological differences aside and trooped in their numbers into the Nation Center to stand in solidarity with their besieged colleagues. Some journalists stayed on and left at 2:30 am, after ensuring the journalists were safely “tucked in” safe and sound.
Larry Madowo, one of Kenya’s popular television news anchors took to Twitter to express his disappointment.
“I was in the control room producing NTV Kenya’s coverage when we were switched off. I am stunned by the government’s justification for this flagrant violation of our constitution. If journalism is now outlawed in Kenya, I am ready to be investigated,” said a defiant Madowo.
Madowo, know for his hard-hitting weekly show SideBar popular for its fiery panelists, says that he is disappointed with the way the government is treating Kenyan journalists, although not surprised.
“We are becoming just another African country… anyone who appreciates how far we have come cannot accept this. In the future, these crackdowns will become normalized…” he said.
For Kaikai, who has been in the industry for 20 years now – since 1997 – this is not the first time he has a “situation” with the government. He says that this crackdown is “a step back,” and “assault” on press freedom in the country.
“Actually, this is a rule of the law question. How is it possible for the government to pull the plug on business? It is not just about the freedom of expression, but also about the right to do business because we pay taxes just like any other business. When all this cools down, it will be found that this was not thoughtful and it was needless,” he said.