Government plans issue of third signal distribution licence

By Frankline Sunday

The State has agreed to grant a third digital distribution licence through a competitive process.

The exercise will, however, be designed to suit local media owners in what is hoped to end a protracted battle between local broadcasters and the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK).

Cabinet Secretary to the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology Dr Fred Matiangi yesterday said a third licence will be floated and local broadcasters will be given priority.

“We are going to give a third licence and it will be done in an open and transparent way, where local media owners will particularly be encouraged to participate,” he said.

Dr Matiangi was speaking at a breakfast meeting between CCK and licenced broadcasters in Nairobi.

mend fences

The move by the State seeks to mend fences between the industry regulator and local broadcasters in a back-and-forth blame game that have lasted for the last two years.

The latest decision to grant a third distribution licence comes barely days after CCK said there is no provision for granting another licence and that media owners had to wait until more spectrum is available.

“Even if we wanted to grant a third licence to a signal distributor, it would not be possible because we do not have sufficient spectrum,” said CCK Director-General Francis Wangusi last Tuesday.

CCK had given media owners the option of teaming up with one of the two distributors, saying media owners had themselves to blame for missing out.

“We had gone to media owners before and asked them to form a consortium and bid for the licence and every time our suggestion was turned down,” said Wangusi.

Media owners argued  that granting the majority of digital broadcast signal distribution rights solely to private foreign companies was an affront to media freedom.

“As media owners, we are going to place our bid for a third licence because we realise that it is important to have local participation in digital broadcasting,” said Media Owners Association Vice-Chairperson Mr Kiprono Kittony.

“The right to owning a distribution licence is very sensitive and it is not proper to give four channels out of six to a foreign entity. There has to be local participation.”

In the same breath, local broadcasters have stated that they will not rescind their decision to withdraw free-to-air channels from selected pay TV packages.

digital signal

Standard Group Chief Executive Sam Shollei said there are issues in the provision of distribution licences that still need to be resolved to guarantee full local media participation.

“Initially, there was supposed to be a separation of digital signal distribution and content distribution,” explained Mr Shollei.

“It later emerged that providers who were granted with digital signal distribution licences were also granted licences to distribute content and this presents a conflict of interest.”

Mr Shollei further urged the Government to address the issue of the high distribution fees, which are an impediment to participation by local broadcasters.

“All we ask for is a competitive and cost effective avenue to distribute content to Kenyan homes.” 

The media owners will from tomorrow set up a five member panel that will represent local broadcasters in fresh negotiations on how the process of availing a third digital distribution licence will be undertaken.


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