Kenya: Digital switchover must protect the right to freedom of expression
14 Jan 2013
ARTICLE 19 welcomes a ruling by the High Court in Kenya to delay the digital switchover process. The decision follows a legal challenge by a consumer group, which argued against the timing of the switchover. In particular, it argued that the expense of set top boxes, which are required to access digital signals, would leave large numbers of people in Kenya without access to television services. The High Court agreed that if the switchover were to take place immediately, it would be unfair to Kenyans, who are keen to follow the upcoming General Election on television.
ARTICLE 19 now urges the Kenyan government to consider reducing the cost of digital equipment, to allow all Kenyans access to information in a digital world. The government must consider fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and information, in its approach to digitalisation.
“This is a positive step to give people the crucial right to be able to access information in Kenya. ARTICLE 19 believes in the promise of digital switchover, but the authorities must make sure that proper measures are in place to safeguard protection of human rights for all, which includes the right to information. If the analogue broadcasting signal is switched off, Kenya risks pulling the plug on the supply of information to large numbers of people as the country prepares to go to the polls” said Henry Maina, Director ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
“The government must use this opportunity to make sure that digital communications are not the exclusive preserve of rich Kenyans or those that are based in urban areas.” he added.
The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) filed a case in December 2012 seeking to block the government’s intention to switch off the analogue signal in Nairobi ahead of the global deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union of June 2015. They claimed that the general public’s right to information would be severely restricted by the expense of buying the set top boxes.
“Digital converter boxes are currently retailing for between US$35 and US$60. That’s a price which prevents most Kenyans from being able to buy the equipment needed to pick up digital signals. The government must make sure that all people can access to digital audiovisual services irrespective of their financial position and should provide financial support to certain groups, such as low income households” adds Mr. Maina.
To comply with international obligations to protect freedom of expression, governments should address the cost implications of digital switchover on the flow of information and the ability of broadcast audiences to receive information. ARTICLE 19 recommends the government to consider ways of reducing the cost of digital equipment to make sure that all Kenyan’s are in a position to be able to receive digital content. The authorities must work hard to prevent financial discrimination which would create a ‘digital divide’ between those who can afford to buy technology and those who cannot.