After three weeks of being off-air, Kenya’s major privately-owned stations, NTV, Citizen, KTN and QTV will finally be back on-air today from around 6.50pm. The face-off between the media houses and the government over digital migration will finally end.
On Tuesday, the 3rd, a deal was struck between the four media houses and the government that has allowed them to broadcast their digital signals in Nairobi and its environs, on free to air platforms. Unfortunately, only viewers with universal free-to–air set top boxes in Nairobi will regain access to the content supplied by the stations; the rest of the country will have to wait.
The TV stations have been off air since February 17th after the Supreme Court decided to stick to Communication Authority of Kenya (CA)’s deadline of digital migration in Nairobi and ruled that the media houses switch from analogue signals. However, they did not honor this ruling, with the three media houses claiming that they were not given enough time. Thus, CA went forth and forcefully switched them from the analogue system. In retaliation, the media houses switched themselves off the digital platform.
According to the director general of CA, Francis Wangusi, the media houses switched themselves off, “let them remain off but we are going to slap some penalties on them given that they have committed a very serious violation including the withdrawing of their licenses,” he added.
Analogue to Digital Migration in Kenya came up because of the Regional Radio-communications Conference that was held in Geneva, Switzerland in 2006(RRC06). The result of the conference was the Geneva 2006 Agreement (GE06) under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Thus as a member of ITU, Kenya automatically subscribed to the resolution that was reached at the conference to migrate from analogue to digital TV broadcasting by June 17th 2015.
Kenya switched off analogue television broadcasting in Nairobi and its environs on December 31, 2014 although NTV, QTV, KTN and Citizen were given permission to continue broadcasting by the courts. In addition, on February 2, this year, analogue transmissions in Nakuru, Meru, Kisumu, Malindi, Mombasa, Kisii, Narok, Nyeri, Eldoret, Kakamega, Webuye, Nyahururu, Machakos and Londiani were switched off. The government plans to switch off the remaining areas before the June 17 global deadline.
There are various benefits of digital migration despite the controversy that the process has been mired in. The advantages of migrating to digital broadcasting include, enhance the quality television broadcasting, access to more channels on TV hence more choices, and better employment of frequencies. As a result, while others have accused taking away freedom of speech by forcing the hand of media houses to switch to digital platform, others have congratulated Kenya for standing their ground and taking Kenya a step in the right direction. While the TV stations have been shut off, the Kenyan public has been forced to watch government owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and K24, which is linked to President Uhuru Kenyattas’ family, for news, which to some has been seen as a step by the Kenyan government to curb media freedom. Nonetheless, the migration process has been postponed on many occasions due legal suits by the media houses. This time however, the government is resolute in its decision, even though media houses say that up to 90% of Kenya has been left without access to news and television.
Due to the countrywide advertisements of free-to-air set top boxes, CA observes that a third of Kenya’s households own a TV set, of those 60% have now acquired a set-top box to receive the digital signal, which is good progress. A new player, Safaricom has also been granted the right to sell universal set top boxes in the local market. Currently, Signet and Pan African Network Group have been licensed to distribute digital signals.