The Star (Nairobi)

12 January 2013

Kenya: Judge Stops Nairobi Digital TV Migration

The Communication Commission of Kenya has been stopped from switching off analogue broadcasting signals.

In a ruling, High Court judge Isaac Lenaola directed the CCK and a consumer lobby group challenging the intended switch to negotiate on an agreeable new date, saying the initial date of December 31 is untimely and improper.

Justice Lenaola said the digital migration if effected as planned by the CCK would be unfair to millions of Nairobians, who are keen to follow the March 4 polls on TV and who cannot afford the set boxes.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) moved to court in December last year seeking to block the government's intention to switch off the analogue signal in Nairobi and its environs before the global deadline set for June 2015.

This was after the commission announced that it was going to switch off analogue signal on December 31.

While issuing the conservatory order yesterday, justice Lenaola said he was satisfied that the group has established that a number of Kenyans will be prejudiced by the intended digital migration and will suffer irreparable loss which cannot be compensated.

"The petitioners have clearly demonstrated that citizen's freedom of information will be limited by the digital migration. In my view it is not enough for the respondents to contend that they have fully sensitized the public on the import. "he said.

The ministry of information had argued that the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting is geared towards increasing Kenya's competitiveness in the global information communication technology arena.

The ministry said Nairobi and its environs are ready to move from analogue to digital trans-mission. It claimed that the government has zero rated set top boxes to ensure affordability by ordinary Kenyans.

Cofek claimed that the consumers and the general public's right to information would be severely infringed because the price of the machines required converting the digital signal to a format compatible with the analogue TV sets remains prohibitive.

But Lenaola said it's equally not sufficient for government to allege that it has cushioned consumers against subsidizing the set boxes to affordable prices in order to make them affordable to common Kenyans.

The judge said he was giving parties a chance to negotiate on an agreeable deadline, although he fixed the case for hearing on February 20, if parties fail to agree.

In its case Cofek warns that millions of people will be locked out of accessing TV and advertising revenue will drop to the detriment of the economy.

The organization avers 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 group says the argument by Ministry 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".

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