State told to name owners of TV firms

Monday February 23 2015

Larry Madowo anchoring an NTV webcast on February 14, 2015 after the Communications Authority prevented the station from broadcasting.

Larry Madowo anchoring an NTV webcast on February 14, 2015 after the Communications Authority prevented the station from broadcasting. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By NGARE KARIUKI
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By ANITA CHEPKOECH
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The organisation that regulates journalists in Kenya wants names of the owners of two firms that have been licensed to distribute digital television content named.

The Media Council of Kenya said Kenyans are entitled to know the owners of Pang and Signet.

“There is foul play in the manner in which digital migration is being handled. If the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) really needs to rebuild its public confidence, it should publish names of the directors of the two companies,” the council’s Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Mr Victor Bwire, said in Kisumu on Monday.

“This is insincerity on the part of the government. It leaves the entire nation speculating on who is given such a prime role of controlling 90 per cent of our local content,” he said during the launch of a report on vernacular radio stations.

The Nation last week reported that a local company, Excel Magic International Ltd, registered in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven, owns a substantial stake in the Pan Africa Network Group (Pang).

RAGING CONTROVERSY

This introduced a new twist to the raging controversy surrounding digital migration because CA has been saying Pang is wholly owned by Chinese.

With Excel Magic International registered in the British Virgin Islands, where laws allow owners of companies to conceal their identities, it is difficult to know the local partners of the Chinese firm.

According to records from the company registry, Excel Magic International, whose shareholding is described as Kenyan, owns 2,500 shares of the 37,500 in Pang, which was registered in Kenya on March 4, 2011.

At the same time, Cord leader Raila Odinga said CA is not acting in the interest of the public when it refuses to give local media houses the time they need to migrate to the digital platform.

He said the authority’s dismissal of requests for a grace period by the Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services and the Standard Group shows that it wants to protect the financial interests of a few businessmen.

“This is a clear case of money speaking louder than the public. It is capitalism deprived of public good and human face,” he told the Nation.

He said only the government stands to gain in the current standoff, adding that the longer the public stays in the dark, the harder it is for the public to keep the powers that be in check.

The Cord leader said the people’s right to information is being infringed when the government refuses to give the three media houses time to import cheaper set-top boxes.

“The government is not an arbitrator in this case but a competitor. This is suppression not just of the media but also of the citizens,” he said.