No turning back on digital move, says Information Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi

Kenya: The Government has ruled out any possibility of reopening analogue television broadcasting for 100 days as suggested by three media houses.

Information Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i said the digital migration had taken off and there was no going back.

"Going back to analogue is not on the table. We are not going back there," Dr Matiang'i said, when he and  Communication Authority (CA) officials appeared before the Senate Committee on Legal and Human Rights.

The analogue transmission was switched off in an acrimonious operation following a Supreme Court order that the digital migration should go on as planned.

The switch-off was effected despite a plea by Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services for more time to import their transmitters and set-top boxes being manufactured in the US. The move plunged majority of Kenyans into television blackout.

Last week, the three media houses suggested to the same committee that the Government reopens the analogue transmission up to May 30.

They proposed that analogue signals be reinstated for that period to enable Kenyans to resume television viewership but CA has since rejected the suggestion.

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But even as the CS maintained the hardline stand, the Government came under pressure from the committee to disclose the ownership of Pan Africa Network Group (Pang), one of the companies issued with a Broadcast Signal Distribution (BSD) licence.

It emerged that both Matiang'i and CA Director General Francis Wangusi could not give the names of Pang directors and their stake in the company. Pang, which the CA claims to be a firm owned fully by the Chinese, beat five other companies to win the BSD licence in 2011.

Its ownership has been a subject of mystery and controversy. Last week a section of the media reported that a company called Excel Magic International Ltd owns 6.7 per cent of Pang.

The company was said to have been incorporated in British Virgin Islands and that Excel's shareholding was described as "Kenyan".

Wangusi was then quoted as having said the firm was 100 per cent foreign-owned.

Media owners claim Pang was issued with the BSD licence when it had not complied with the policy requirement to have 30 per cent local ownership. It was then wholly owned by foreigners.

Yesterday, Senate Deputy Speaker Kembi Gitura and Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar put Government officials on the spot, asking them to disclose the ownership of Pang and its associate StarTimes.

Sold out

Nominated Senator Fatma Dullo said in a case where such a huge investment in the broadcasting industry had been given to a foreign entity, knowing its ownership was important for the country's security.

Wangusi told the senators, according to the registrar of companies' records, Pang is now owned by three companies.

He expressed doubt Excel is a Kenyan company saying they had written to the registrar and Pang asking for the shareholders' names in the companies.

The CS refuted claims the set-top boxes in Kenya cannot handle demand. He said according to their tracking systems, there were 1,969,163 set-top boxes already sold out by last Friday, while another 1,349,401 were in the stores of various distributors.

He added about 600,000 DSTV decoders had been sold before the migration started.

The senators asked the CA to explain why the extension of the migration could not be allowed as requested by the media owners. "These are Kenyans who have built their brands over time. If we migrate on one day, what would be the loss?" asked Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen.

Gitura asked why there was a rush to migrate if other African countries were still seeking an extension.

Wangusi said they needed to have ironed out all difficulties in the migration before the international deadline on June 17. The committee asked the CA to prepare a report, which should reveal Pang's ownership, within a week.

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Digital migrationFred MatiangiCA