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Stations criticise order to switch off analogue broadcasting

Storyline:National News, World

Lawyer for the three media houses Paul Muite during the ruling on the digital migration case on February 13, 2015. The Supreme Court ruled that the dates set by the Communications Authority on the migration be upheld. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP
The Media Owners Association on Friday defied an order by the Communications Authority to switch off analogue TV broadcasting by midnight.
In a statement signed by chairman Sam Shollei, the association accused the CA of selectively applying a Supreme Court ruling on the dispute.
The CA, it said, had curiously chosen to address itself to only parts of the Supreme Court ruling, while disregarding the interests of more than 90 percent of viewers who depend entirely on free-to-air television.
“We expect the CAK to address itself to the rest of the orders issued by the Supreme Court, specifically the reinstatement of the Self-Provisioning Digital Broadcasting Licence which must equally be communicated to us in writing by the CAK,” Mr Shollei said in the statement.
By reinstating the licence and the frequencies, the Supreme Court orders allowed the three media houses — Nation Media Group, Standard Media Group and Royal Media Services — to migrate to digital broadcasting as self-provisioning signal distributors.
However, this will not be possible until the CA allows them time to acquire their equipment that includes digital transmitters, antennae and the critical Set-Top Boxes (STBs also commonly known as Digital Receivers or Decoders).
“This acquisition process, it should be noted, was interrupted by the CA’s cancellation of our Self Provisioning Authorisation on the January 21, 2015,” said Mr Shollei.
They added that the speed with which CA moves when it comes to the three media houses demonstrates what the three have consistently held to be a hostile attitude, uncharacteristic of any independent regulator.
“Matters of concern raised by the three media houses have always been ignored or outrightly dismissed by the CA,” he said.
Switching off analogue broadcasts amounts to plunging into darkness of more than 90 percent of viewers, a majority of them ordinary Kenyans with no means to access or afford pay television.
Further, that CA’s action amounts to an infringement on the right of the Kenyan public to receive information under Article 33 of the Constitution and violates the Freedom of Broadcasting.
The media owners stand now means the CA has to switch off the broadcasts itself at the Limuru transmission site.
Earlier on Friday, the Supreme Court directed that the switch-off dates set by the Communications Authority be upheld.
“The general switch-off dates from the analogue to the digital platform shall remain as scheduled,” ruled five-judges.
A few hours after the ruling, Communications Authority director-general Francis Wangusi called a press conference and announced that all TV stations that should have migrated by February 2 should comply by midnight or be switched off.
On November 28 the authority announced that analogue switch-off would be done in three stages, with Nairobi and its environs scheduled for December 31.
Mombasa, Malindi, Nyeri, Meru, Kisumu, Webuye, Kakamega, Kisii, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyahururu, Nyadundi, Machakos, Narok, Londiani and Rongai were set for February 2.
All other areas would be switched off on March 30.
Mr Wangusi on Friday said “any media house currently broadcasting on the analogue platform in the areas already switched off is required to migrate by midnight.
“Any broadcaster still on the analogue platform will be doing so illegally.”
The judges also said all pending cases before the Supreme Court challenging the migration were also dismissed.
However, they directed the communications authority to reinstate the licence and 21 digital frequencies it had withdrawn from the three media houses — Nation Media Group, Standard Group and Royal Media Services.
Mr Wangusi said the authority will on Saturday start repossessing all the frequencies TV stations were using to transmit analogue broadcasts.
On Friday, Information Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the government had an obligation to respect international treaties.
He said the Supreme Court had vindicated the government.