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Senators express anger over TV switch-off, demand solution

POLITICS
By MOSES NJAGIH and ROSELYNE OBALA | Feb 19th 2015 | 4 min read

NAIROBI: Senators Wednesday expressed their anger at the shutting down of the three main independent television stations and told the Government that there was a better way of navigating the digital migration.

The senators closed political ranks to condemn the manner in which the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) was driving the migration, with many urging the Government to intervene and save the KTN, Citizen, NTV and QTV from incurring any further loss of revenue.

The Senate suspended its normal business to discuss the shutdown during a motion moved by Siaya Senator James Orengo.

Mr Orengo said it was wrong for the CA to maintain a hardline position against the media houses as though they were against digital migration when they had openly stated that they were not.

"The stations are not against digital migration. All they are asking for is to be given time to install the right infrastructure. The media houses don't want their content edited or their competitive edge taken away by rivals," said Orengo.

He said that the acrimonious passage of the contentious security laws without the input of the Senate and the forceful switch-off of the media houses demonstrate the Government was keen to narrow Kenyans' democratic space.

Orengo said it was unfortunate that local companies were finding it difficult to do business in Kenya because of stringent conditions from the Government that is expected to create a conducive environment for investors.

Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang'ula said players in the media industry must be given opportunity to do what they do within the confines of the law.

GENUINE CONCERNS

"Why is the Government creating monopolies in business? We want people to enjoy diversity," Mr Wetang'ula said.

He blamed the Government for exhibiting arrogance when dealing with the matter yet the affected media houses were raising genuine concerns.

"Those mandarins within the Jubilee set-up are the ones behind these dirty games. These media houses pay revenue and they should be treated fairly," he said.

Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale accused the Government of taking the advantage of the process to frustrate local investors while rewarding foreign entities.

He argued that there was a systematic favouritism being granted to the media platforms owned by foreigners.

"I stand to condemn the Government of Kenya for switching off the popular KTN, NTV and Citizen. In the process, the Government had denied Kenyans their constitutional rights and they must take responsibility for it," said Khalwale.

His Laikipia counterpart GG Kariuki said Kenyans were getting worried with the manner the CA Director General Francis Wangusi was reacting in pushing for the digital migration, saying he should be more humane in how he handles the three media houses, even if he has the backing of the courts in the migration battle.

He said Wangusi must protect the interests of the media houses and protect the business empires they have taken long to establish, instead of frustrating them.

"When you listen to Wangusi speaking, you wonder where he is coming from. He speaks like a person who has not been living in Kenya to know that these media houses have been here, diligently serving Kenyans and they need his protection more," said Mr Kariuki.

"If they are asking for six months or even a year to establish themselves for the digital migration, what is the problem with that even if the global migration is in June? They have been here and we know them," he added.

Kariuki urged Wangusi to be measured in his attack on the media houses, even if he is driving the Government agenda of ensuring that the stations are compliant digitally.

"Even if you want to hire a sycophant, you must always get an intelligent one. Not all sycophants give you the best results," said the Laikipia Senator.

A section of senators, especially those who sit in the House's Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee, reserved their comments awaiting to hear from media owners, who are expected to appear before the committee this morning.

MEDIA OWNERS

"We want to hear what (Paul) Muite and the media houses have to say when they appear before us tomorrow. We will compare notes with members of our ICT committee chaired by Senator Mutahi Kagwe," said Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr.

Nominated Senators Martha Wangari and Naisula Lesuuda cautioned against what they termed as chest-thumping and grand-standing, saying an amicable solution must be employed to end the stalemate.

"CA and the media houses must sit together and find a way of ending the stalemate, moving away from the growing culture of talking at one another and waiting to see who blinks first," said Lesuuda.

Kisumu Senator Anyang Nyong'o said under the Bill of Rights, the media companies could not be compelled by the State to continue sharing their content with pay TV competitors.

"We cannot compel media owners to distribute their content with the pay TV stations as directed by the Government. World over, State operations cannot force private companies to use their platforms," said Nyong'o.

West Pokot Senator John Lonyangapuo said he sympathised with the media owners, claiming that since the shutdown, Kenyans were in total darkness and could not follow current affairs.

"We must own up and sort out this issue and stop the blame game between the Government and the media. We need substantive information on this matter," said Lonyangapuo.

However, Isiolo Senator Mohhamed Kuti said that as much as media owners want to be given more time, the global switch-off date was fast approaching, urging them to fast-track their migration.

"It is unfortunate that the Government has created a media platform through Signet which belongs to the State to allow media owners to air their content but they have refused, instead subjecting Kenyans to untold suffering," he said.

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