Cofek lauds CAK slam on media firms

By James Ratemo, Nairobi, Kenya

The Consumer Federation of Kenya has welcomed the Communication Authority of Kenya’s (CAK) decision to slam three local media firms for a misleading TV advert.

The three media firms; Standard Media Group (Owner of Kenya Television Network –KTN, and Radio Maisha FM), Royal Media Services (Owner of Citizen TV and horde of radio stations) and Nation Media Group (Owner of NTV, QTV, QFM and Nation FM) claimed that two pay TV firms, StarTimes and GoTv, are broadcasting their free-to-air content without consent.

Cofek said CAK’s decision to temporarily withdraw the digital broadcasting licence granted to the consortium by the three media houses (under the consortium identified as Africa Digital Network) is a move in the right direction.

 “The decision to instill strict discipline among ICT industry operators without fear or favour in line with Article 34 of the Constitution,” said Cofek in a statement.

Cofek has urged the warring parties to seek arbitration mechanisms through the Courts of Law instead acting outside the confines of the law.

“…the 3 media houses under the Africa Digital Network consortium have themselves to blame. Indeed, it is difficult for one to find reason to sympathize with them. They have allowed emotions rather than reason to explain their grievances,” said Cofek.

“The message they ran over the weekend was in bad taste and certainly not in good faith. It sought to undermine the digital migration process, the regulator, consumer interest as well an active related matter before the Supreme Court. The message caused severe and an unnecessary anxiety among consumers,” read Cofek’s statement in part.

“In order that the all-important digital migration process is not thrown into total disarray, and should the 3 media houses accept to play by the CAK rules, show remorse and publicly apologize for the tone and misleading content in the offensive ads, we urge the regulator to reconsider withdrawal of their license before officially gazzetting its’ latest decision. We also urge the affected media houses not to proceed to Court on the latest CAK decision prior to giving meaningful dialogue chance.” Said Cofek.

The Consumer watch body has called on the Competition Authority to immediately investigate potential abuse of dominance specifically on the cross-ownership and refusal by the three media houses to run advertisements by rivals on digital migration switch-off or otherwise. 

“CAK must equally ensure that all pay-tv decoders should never disconnect Free to Air channels whether on FTA or encrypted pay-tv decoders."

On Wednesday CAK withdrew temporary authorization granted to the consortium by the three media houses (under the consortium identified as Africa Digital Network).

CAK was responding to an ongoing squabble between the media firms and two pay TV companies which came out through a TV infomercial.

The said advertisement alleges that Startimes and GOtv are illegally carrying their content thereby infringing on copyright and neighbouring" rights. The advertisement goes farther to instruct consumers not to purchase Startimes and GOtv pay-tv set-top boxes to watch CITIZEN Television, NTV, KTN and QTV.

According to Wangusi, the digital migration framework allows for the distribution of the ‘Free-to-Air’  signals on the digital platform under the  “must-carry principle and this was supported by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Kenya in September 2014 .

The said Supreme Court ruling allowed for the availability of Free-to-Air channels to the public through all set-top-boxes (FTA and Pay TV).

“The advertisement dissuading consumers from purchasing set-top-boxes from other suppliers approved by the Authority is therefore misleading to the public and portrays anti-competitive conduct by the three media houses.  Consumers need not be constrained to purchase a specific set top box to view the content of the three broadcasters whose content is Free-to Air,” added Wangusi.

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