NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 17 – Information, Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i says TV stations switched off at the weekend have no option but to comply with digital migration provisions.
Appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Communication chaired by Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau, the information CS accused Citizen, NTV, KTN and QTV of being dishonest and creating a standoff yet they were well aware of the deadlines on digital migration.
“What we are fighting is control and monopolistic tendencies. If we love our country, time has come to migrate to digital broadcasting; If the cost we are going to pay is by taking a firm position, we as government are prepared to be firm because we act in trust of the people of Kenya,” said Matiang’i.
The Information CS who was accompanied by the Communications Authority of Kenya Director General Francis Wangusi said the government will not succumb to pressure to alter the digital migration deadline for the benefit of media houses which failed to comply at will.
“This war to a greater extent has nothing to do with the games being played; it has got to do with a bit more than that. Even if we changed the dates, it is not going to change the reality. I recognise that the bigger investors put more resources than the small investor but even so, we still must be fair,” added Matiang’i.
Wangusi accused the media houses of being selfish and engaging in a monopoly to lock out other upcoming television stations.
“The media houses are unhappy because of the open space for competition. Now that there used to be only three lions and no lionesses we are now having 10 lions and 30 lionesses and they are all drinking from the same pool… they are now seeing that what they have been getting from the advertising revenue is being competed (for) by many people and they do not want that to happen. They want the status quo to remain,” claimed Wangusi.
The two however did not rule out dialogue with the four media houses over the stand-off albeit with conditions.
“We will have discussions as long as two things are not on the table; that we go back to analogue and that we are not given lectures on the spectrum resources available. No one can be given a license to own spectrum… you pay for it. There are many people queuing to get those licenses and we cannot delay this because of others,” affirmed Matiang’i.
The government officials dismissed the notion that there was a crisis in the media industry and that Kenyans were losing out on information stating that 40 local channels were available on the digital platform which Kenyans are already watching.
“One of the three media houses that is now in court and insisting on this matter… its sister company and subsidiary in another country has migrated and is being carried by the same signal distributor they are protesting over,” explained Matiang’i.
He urged Kenyans to look at the positive side of digital migration as it would create more jobs for the broadcast industry, spilling through to creative writers, producers, camera persons, video editors, reporters and anchors among others.
The public officials received a rare shot in the arm after Kisumu Town East MP Shakeel Shabir, who sat in the committee as a ‘visitor’ said digital migration was necessary to equalise the market and also ensure the country is at par with the other developed countries.
“If we do not grab this opportunity, we will be like the film industry which did not see digital realisation coming – we are coming to a situation where if we do not make this hard decision we are not going to go far, this is not a political matter between one coalition and another – we must go digital or go backwards,” said Shabir.
Matiang’i pleaded with the legislators to enlighten their constituents on the facts and myths of digital migration and how it is expected to work to ensure Kenyans understand the structure and argue from a point of information.
He said they had subsidised the cost of the set up boxes by exempting the suppliers from import duty to ensure the cost comes down and also by ensuring there are many suppliers in the country which definitely brings down the cost.
NTV, KTN, Citizen and QTV remain off-air since Saturday when Communications Authority officials switched off their analogue transmitters, however in protest, the TV stations switched themselves off on the digital and analogue platforms across the country.