Digital Migration: Cofek’s advisory on the standoff between KTN, NTV & CitizenTV on one hand and the Communications Authority on the other

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The Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) has always fought for and will continue to fight for media freedom and a conducive environment for their enhanced productivity.

Kenya’s democratic gains can largely be attributed to our hardworking media houses and entrepreneurs behind them. We appreciate the media industry for this.

But on the digital migration dispute, and with deep respect, KTN, NTV and CitizenTV are fighting a lost battle. Emotional responses and knee-jerk reactions to both the regulator and Government does not assist either party.

It is regrettable that both parties are unable to accommodate each other into a win-win arrangement. In such a scenario, the Courts are a final arbiter.

That the Supreme Court has painstakingly closed the case calls for ceasefire. The 3 media houses must accept the gracious defeat and like a Mexican dog choose to live to fight another day as opposed to killing itself.

Whipping near-xenophobic emotions without addressing the potential lapses on their part as well as the regulator is a futile consolation. If truth be told, the so-called “foreigners”, “Chinese” and “South African” broadcast sub-sector investors did not license themselves. From the process applied to whether they were deserving or not is debatable. What is factual is that they have valid papers from the Kenyan Government to undertake the business they do.

Regardless of their valid grievances, their approach, strategy and timing is certainly unfavourable. Why?

First, the option of the mainstream media houses switching themselves off from digital platforms particularly DSTV, assuming they have irreconcilable differences with PANG and GOTv, was uncalled for as it could reveal their unintended disdain for the regulator.

Second, the Government would be committing an even more severe injustice to other broadcasters and consumers should, for instance, any form of reversal to analogue broadcasting be contemplated and or entertained.

Third, it would appear ironical that the aggrieved mainstream media houses are not playing by the same democracy and rule of law they have been championing. Assuming the regulator is unfair to them, as they have often alleged, they should at the very least have respected the Supreme Court ruling by switching themselves off only from analogue. They should have remained and indeed have an obligation to revert back to the available and free digital platforms until such a time they are ready to stand on their own.

Fourth, and now that analogue has been switched off, the regulator should be preparing to advertise the third Broadcast Signal Distribution license bid. The Africa Digital Network consortium (bringing together the 3 media houses) must forget their bad history and put all their energies into presenting a winning bid, if they must, as soon as the procurement notice is made.

Fifth, even if the Nation Media Group, Standard Group and Royal Media Services would go for a total shut-down of their respective newspapers and radio flagships, such a protest would be counter-productive and shall only hurt the recovering economy. It won’t help one, least of all themselves.

The perceived political and commercial undertones between entrepreneurs on either side of the divide should not be exploited. On this scale, we appreciate that President Uhuru Kenyatta who has interests in K24Tv has kept off the digital migration debate. Given this reality, the process cannot be used by any quarter to settle political and or commercial interests.

As a way forward therefore, Cofek hereby:

(a)  Urges the regulator to give back the self-provisioning National Facility Provider license to the 3 media houses who must equally and immediately resume their transmissions

(b) Urges the Communications Authority to work on advertising the third Broadcast Signal Distribution license bid soonest possible

(c)  Demand that mutual respect between the 3 media houses and the regulator be observed and upheld

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