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Reporters Without Borders Condemns Kenyan Media Ban

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says the Kenyan government's decision to impose a post-election broadcast media blackout is counter-productive and represents a setback for democracy in the east African country. The government imposed the ban on Sunday, as parts of Kenya erupted in violence after the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner of a hotly-contested election. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

The head of the Africa Desk for Reporters Without Borders, Leonard Vincent, says his organization is extremely concerned by the ban that prohibits Kenyan radio and television stations from transmitting live news reports relating to the outcome of last Thursday's presidential elections.

As the country convulsed for a second day in post-election rioting and protests that killed dozens of people, Vincent says his organization fears the media blackout will prolong the instability by encouraging people to make decisions based on rumors, not facts.

"This is really counter-productive because it will only radicalize the positions of the opponents and the population will rely on confusion and rumors," he said. "It is dangerous for democracy and for the country as a whole."

The gag on broadcasters was imposed shortly after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared President Mwai Kibaki the winner of the country's most fiercely-fought and closest-ever presidential election. The 76 year-old incumbent was immediately sworn-in to serve a second five-year term.

The announcement of Mr. Kibaki's win, carried live on local television and radio stations, angered tens of thousands of supporters of opposition candidate Raila Odinga in Nairobi and elsewhere in the country.

Charging that the president's political party had rigged the election, thousands went on a rampage, clashing with police and rival tribal groups in violence not seen here in decades.

On Monday, the Permanent Secretary in Kenya's Ministry of Information, Bitange Ndemo, defended the government restrictions on broadcasters. He said the move was not intended to muzzle free speech, but to prevent the airing of material that could incite more violence.

"This was invoked in the interest of public security until such a time we have peace in the country," said Ndemo.

Leonard Vincent of Reporters Without Borders says the government's action is not acceptable in a democratic society.

"It is not the messenger who is guilty in the case of [bringing] turmoil in the country. The problem is elsewhere and this is something that we have repeatedly been telling governments all over the world, especially democratic governments because the democratic governments are suppose to abide by values and the value here is the freedom of expression. The problem is not the media. The problem is the political crisis," said Vincent.

The political crisis is expected to continue with the opposition vowing to conduct its own swearing-in ceremony for Mr. Odinga and to declare him the people's president.

Mr. Kibaki's political party says such a move will be tantamount to a coup and will not be tolerated by the government.