Will a denial of broadcasting service to digitally non-compliant households constitute a violation of the constitutional right to receive information and ideas?


 

Digital broadcasting has emerged as a globally accepted standard for next-generation mass media. It presents a method of relaying radio and television signals with various advantages from analogue broadcasting. It enables a more efficient use of bandwidth and the bundling of multiple channels in one frequency. Moreover, digitally broadcast images, video and audio have a higher quality than their analogue counterparts. The transition from digital to signal broadcasting is arguably the most significant technological cross-over for television and is only closely rivaled, if not slightly surpassed, by the invention of colour television.

 

At the stroke of midnight at the end of 17th June 2015, all nations will cease all analogue broadcasts of radio and television signals and switch over to the transmission of digital-only signals with the exception of

digital migration
digital migration

some developing countries for which the transition period will end on 17 June 2020. On that date, all analogue television sets for which the owners will not have installed a digital signal converter will go black.

In Kenya however, the communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) have new self-imposed datelines. They will carry out the analogue switch-off exercise in 3 phases to wit; Nairobi on 13th December, 2013; Mombasa, Malindi, Nyeri, Meru, Kisumu, Webuye, Kisii, Nakuru and Eldoret on 30th March, 2014 and the rest of the country on 30th June, 2014.

Consumers of analogue television services and members of the public in general through Consumers Federation of Kenya (COFEK) have opposed the move by CCK to switch off analogue television frequency signals by 13th December 2013 or any other date before June 2014. They contend that this notice is too short and inappropriate considering that December is a festive season, immediately after which school re-opening calendar together with prevalent economic challenges facing Kenyans puts financial pressure on poor households not to forget the need for Kenyans to follow important national developments which include devolution and constitutional implementation processes, among others.

CCK’s decision, in the event that it is sustained, will lock out millions of Kenyans from following important national matters such as legislations, government policies, and matters of national interest, among others as envisaged under Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya. While they claim , that so far 500,000 set boxes have been sold in Nairobi, there is no similar evidence and goodwill to demonstrate that the over 3,500,000 remaining television owners will purchase the compulsory and prescribed gadgets

The consumers and general public right to information will be severely infringed because current free-to-air channels, some paid for by the taxpayer, are being forced into pay-TV bundles vide a set-top box which are not free of cost. The specific case in which consumers of television services cannot access NTV, Citizen TV and KTN on the StarTimes platform is one such discrimination, against Article 27(4) of the Constitution of Kenya, which is being perpetuated with untold impunity as CCK maintain their loud silence. It should be a requirement that all set-top boxes/integrated digital TVs must be able to receive all non-encrypted free to air TV. In Denmark, the Ministry of Research and Communication has determined (Danish Ministry of Research, departmental order no. 709 of 25 June 1996) that “Digital decoders must be constructed in a way that allows non-encrypted digital TV signals to pass transparently through them.”

Further, there has been no sufficient public information, education and communication campaign to raise awareness on digital migration to allow consumers the freedom of choice as envisaged in Article 46 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 and the Consumer Protection Act, 2012.

digital 2
The foregoing concerns are not the bitter pill of new technology that a society must take at a certain time in its development. Rather, once resolved, they will be the relish with which the consumer will find the transition to digital broadcasting more appetizing. The national digital broadcasting switchover programme will need to anticipate and resolve these concerns.

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