11 December 2012

Kenya: Consumer Lobby Sues State Over Digital Switch-Off Plan

KENYA's self-imposed switch from analogue to digital television transmission ran into trouble yesterday after a consumer organization filed a suit to challenge the December 31 deadline.

In a case certified urgent by Justice Isaac Lenaola, the Consumer Federation of Kenya argues that the notice is too short and inappropriate considering the festive season, schools re-opening and economic challenges, among other issues facing Kenyans.

Through lawyer Henry Kurauka, Cofek said that the move is unreasonable and expensive and most Kenyans do not have the cash to purchase the set-boxes to enable them switch from analogue to digital frequency.

The organisation said that the decision contravenes provisions of the constitution on public participation in policy formulation and implementation. This is because consumers are not represented on the digital television committee, which is spearheading the switch-off.

The set-boxes are being sold at an estimated price of between Sh2,500 and Sh5,300. "The respondents' intention to switch off analogue television transmission signal in Nairobi on 31, December 2012 is abrupt, unreasonable, irrational and contravenes the doctrine of public participation embraced under Article 10 of the Constitution," says Kurauka in the application.

The lawyer argued that the argument by Ministry of Information that any delay would be costly to the investors was a confirmation that the ministry was unfairly protecting the private sector at the expense of the consumer, "in total disregard of provisions of Article 46 of the constitution".

The organization says that there has been no sufficient public information, education and communication campaign to raise awareness on digital migration to allow consumers the freedom of choice as envisaged in the constitution.

Cofek has warned that millions of people will be locked out of accessing TV, advertising revenue will drop to the detriment of the economy as well affecting employment within the industry.

The organization also says that Kenyans need information now especially as we head to the General Election- for civic education and other matters related to the elections such as voter registration, legislations, government policies and other matters of national interest.

After certifying the matter urgent, Justice Lenaola directed Kurauka to serve the Attorney General with court papers together with the Information and Communication Ministry as well as the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK).

The organization will be seeking among other orders, a directive stopping the switch off until the global deadline of 2015. The case will be heard on Monday.

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