Francis Atwoli asks President Kenyatta to end TV switch impasse

Tuesday March 3 2015

Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli speaks at a past Press conference in Nairobi. PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI

Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli addresses reporters in Nairobi on March 3, 2015. Atwoli said Cotu will be converted into a political party if the government fails to raise workers’ minimum wage on Labour Day. FILE PHOTO | BILLY MUTAI | NATION MEDIA GROUP.

By DENNIS ODUNGA
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The workers' umbrella union on Tuesday called on President Kenyatta to intervene and end the standoff between three leading media houses and the communications regulator over digital migration.

The impasse has left thousands of Kenyans staring at blank TV screens for the past 17 days after the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) switched off the analogue signals of NTV, QTV, KTN and Citizen TV.

Central Organisation of Trade Union (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli said the stalemate was undermining the image of Kenya as an investment destination.

He said the switch-off had resulted in big losses among investors and businesspeople and would discourage potential foreign and local investors.

He termed it as punitive the government decision to remain silent as multibillion-shilling investments remain shut and uncertainty continues to grow among workers.

“How do you, as government, democratically elected by the people, crack down and proceed to close down not one, not two but three leading TV stations that have seen Kenyans invest in billions over the years?” Mr Atwoli said.

BIG SHAME

He added: “This is a big shame for the government and Kenyans are left wondering who is advising our President.”

Mr Atwoli warned that without the right information, Kenyans are likely to resort to rumours and propaganda that would cause trouble for the government.

“Let the President personally intervene in this grave matter with the respective owners of the concerned media houses,” Mr Atwoli said in a statement to newsrooms.

Media houses, he said, employ thousands of Kenyans whose careers now hang in the balance.

“It is absolutely heartless for this government not to bother to recognise the role of investors, employing thousands of Kenyans and who contribute heavily to our economy,” he said.

Mr Atwoli said keeping the country in the dark is against the United Nations International Convention on the right of access to information.

He asked the government to consider seeking an extension of the digital migration deadline like many other African countries have done.

EXTEND DEADLINE

Owners of the four TV stations had asked the government to move the digital migration deadline to May 30 to give them time to import transmission equipment and digital set-top boxes.

They have maintained that they are not opposed to digital migration, whose global deadline is June 17.

“The government is playing very retrogressive, dangerous and selfish politics with our leading TV stations. It should protect and provide employment to most of our citizens who remain largely unemployed,” Mr Atwoli said.

The three media houses, which control 80 per cent of the television audience, are opposed to handing over their content to the Chinese-owned Pan Africa Network Group (Pang) and want more time to put up their own infrastructure for digital transmission.

Information Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and the CA have been accused of favouring foreign companies at the expense of the local ones.
A majority of MPs and senators want the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to extend digital migration to save Kenyan the agony of blank TV screens.