Court set to make ruling on digital TV shift on Monday

By KURIAN MUSA

NAIROBI, KENYA: The temporary reprieve by the High Court on digital TV migration has come to an end as the court is expected to make a final verdict on Monday.

While allowing a full hearing of the case, Judge David Majanja said he had the capacity to handle the case. He is today expected to make a landmark ruling that will affect the accessibility of broadcast television in the country.

Media houses wanted their case challenging the digital switch to be referred to Chief Justice Willy Mutunga to constitute a three-judge bench.

They said the shift from analogue to digital broadcasting was unconstitutional.

According to the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the switch off was set to begin on Friday December 13, but this was reversed by Justice Majanja sitting in Nairobi.

The High Court suspended the planned switch from analogue to digital broadcasting to December 23, to allow determination of a suit filed by media houses challenging the Government’s plan.

The date of switch off was put on hold by 10 days, pending a ruling on the main petition by three media houses - Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services.

TRANSITION PERIOD

In the case, the Government has been urged to give a transition period of five years during which both a mers to watch television.

Lawyers Paul Muite and Issa Mansur have put up a brave and spirited legal battle to allow the transition to go through the ‘simulcast’ period as recommended by the digital migration committee.

This is to reserve the rights of media investors likely to record millions of losses if the switch off continues.

On December 13, Muite said: “You cannot tell a media house to go digital and at the same time deny them the licence when they have invested over Sh40 billion in their stations, then give the contracts to Chinese firms that have no infrastructure and only want to maximise profits where they have not invested.”

Three media houses have petitioned the court to stop the Government from switching off their signals and also stop broadcasting their intellectual property content without their permission.

Consumer Federation of Kenya, an interested party in the case, says the plan to switch off analogue television frequencies is in bad faith and contravenes national values of public participation and policy formulation.

The lobby group said the move is unreasonable and expensive to consumers, most of whom cannot by the required set boxes to receive digital signals.

The media houses accuse the Government of allowing pay-tv providers Signet Kenya Limited, Star Times Media Limited, Pan Africa Network Group and Gotv Kenya Limited to use their intellectual property by rebroadcasting their local programmes without compensation.

If the digital switch-over is allowed to go on, it will lock out over 90 per cent of television viewers, according to the petitioners who control 86 per cent of the television market share. They claim they were left out of planning and implementation of the digital migration.

Senior Counsel Muite in his submissions to the court said majority of consumers would not afford the average Sh5,000 for the set-top boxes, given the fact that their television sets cost around Sh4,000.

“They will not afford the monthly subscription fee and they will stop watching TV, which will lead to the death of broadcast media and loss of employment to many journalists,” he said.

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