Acrimony persisted between the Government and three mainstream media houses even as majority of households in the country remained shut off from television viewership for the second day, Sunday.
Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Information, Communication and Technology Fred Matiang’i led an onslaught against the media houses – Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services – accusing them of attempting to blackmail the Government by switching off their transmission.
But his statement received a sharp reaction from the three broadcasters, who accused the Government of being squarely to blame for the switch off. They claimed the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) was keen on repossessing their frequencies in order to allocate them to their favourite players in the industry.
At the same time, former vice presidents Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi, as well as governors Evans Kidero (Nairobi and Simon Kachapin (West Pokot) faulted the Government for being insensitive to the plight of Kenyans and their investments.
The media houses in a statement response to Dr Matiang’i, said the forceful shutdown of analogue broadcasting was calculated at forcing them to avail their analogue signal for distribution by the Government-owned Signet and the “Government’s preferred Chinese-owned distributor Pan Africa Group (PANG)” that also operates Pay TV service Star Times.
“It is incomprehensible that the ICT cabinet secretary and the Communications Authority choose to blame the three media houses for a broadcast switch off that the Government and the regulator is entirely responsible for,” the statement read in part.
The Media Owners Association statement added, “The three media houses have been broadcasting on an analogue platform and the dismantling of their equipment by the CA in Limuru, effectively switched off our transmission. We have not been broadcasting on digital and the application that was before the Supreme Court was about being afforded adequate time to order, import and install digital broadcast equipment,” the media houses said in their statement last evening.
Indeed on Friday, the CA Director General Francis Wangusi confirmed that that they had asked the media houses to surrender their analogue frequencies for redistribution.
“Forcing the three media houses to avail their channels to either PANG or Signet will be inconsistent with the right to carry their own content as provided by the Self Provisioning Licence reinstated by the Supreme Court on Friday, February 13, 2015,” the media houses said.
The media houses accused the CS of threatening and intimidating them to give in to the contentious, pre-determined and unacceptable position taken by the CA on digital signal distribution.
“We regret the inconvenience caused to our viewers by the unfortunate developments arising entirely from the gross mishandling of the digital migration process by the Communications Authority and other forces. The three media houses have been and will always remain committed to digital migration and we are doing everything possible to get your channels back on air,” they said.
On Saturday, CA officials accompanied by armed policemen made forceful entry into the transmission stations of the three media houses in Limuru, Kiambu County, dismantled and carted away equipment.
This followed a Supreme Court ruling on Friday, which allowed the digital migration to proceed as scheduled by the CA. The court ordered the CA to reinstate frequencies and a licence withdrawn from African Digital Network (ADN) following an advertising dispute.
The move plunged the country into a television blackout as more than 90 per cent of Kenyans cannot afford Pay TV or decoders.
The three media houses have been pressing to be allowed ample time to set up their signal distribution infrastructure, having been allocated the frequencies only two weeks to the deadline for the first switch off. They also want other carriers stopped from distributing their material without their consent as has been happening when they were on the analogue platform.
But in his remarks Sunday, Matiang’i accused the three media houses saying their conduct was contemptuous to the Supreme Court.
“It is irrational and perhaps intended to incite public opinion against the regulator and the Government. Their antics are unbecoming of responsible investors in Kenya’s emerging dynamic and highly respected communication sector,” said the CS.
Musyoka wondered why President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration was mishandling citizens by trampling on their fundamental human right to information.
“This acrimonious switch off by the Communication Authority is an infringement of freedom of the Press,” the former vice president said.
Commenting on the same, Mudavadi also called on the Government to reconsider its approach to digital migration and give room for consultation.
“The Government bears greater responsibility to ensure Kenyans have access to information. It ought to safeguard the greater public good and not just the need for technology. The regulator seems to have a very narrow view of retribution. The shutdown is not punishing stations but shutting off Kenyans. It’s unfortunate Kenyans are now listening to their story from foreign stations,” said Mudavadi
Dr Kidero observed that the right to access information is a constitutional right that should be respected by any organisation.
“The right to access information is guaranteed in the Constitution and the Government must ensure that all the citizens get access to first-hand information. It is unfair that the four TV stations are not on air. They should be switched on immediately,” said Kidero.
Mr Kachapin criticised the Government for gagging the media by shutting down the main stations in the country and said the move could expose the society to corruption and other dictatorial tendencies.
“Media is a key tool of development and the action taken by the Government is dictatorial and Kenyans should rise up and defend the Constitution and rights of the media,” said Kachapin.