It was just before Christmas when Kenyans came home to find that their local TV stations had faded to black, leaving us instead with a message to explain their sudden blackout. The three The Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media services (aka KTN, NTV, QTV and Citizen TV) did so in protest of the looming switch from an analogue platform to a digital one. When their case against the CCK was thrown out by Justice David Majanja the three took action and went off air until Christmas evening.
Once they were on air once more the three went back to court to appeal the decision, meanwhile the courts ordered the migration to proceed and as a result those who had not bought the Universal Set Top Boxes worth approximately 5,000 shillings and lived in Nairobi and its environs woke up Monday morning to find nothing but the white rainy look of an unturned TV set- translation: They had been cut off! Prompting some Kenyans to rush to their nearest retailer, to tighten their belts and purchase the small grey decoder like boxes that would ensure they could once again watch their favourite local channels.
This would be the third time the digital migration had been delayed from 2012; it was pushed to October this month... that didn’t happen either. The Media Association were given more time to sort out the issue of licensing and the challenge posed by the lack of Set Top Boxes to satisfy the more than 44 million Kenyans.
Make no mistake the three media houses rebelled because the switch stood to incur them 40 billion shilling loss on the investment and equipment that had been acquired prior.
Although the switch has been long in coming and, to be fair the public was warned sometime in October of the need to purchase or at least think of or save up to purchase a box we Kenyans have a horrible habit of waiting until the 11th hour to do what needs to be done, this is a habit it seem hard as we may try we cannot break.
That said the high taxation on everyday essential products such milk, bread and maize flower have touched Kenyans where it hurts most, depleting a once health wallet to near nothing after that monthly shopping trip.
If you add on to the thinning wallet or purse the Christmas season and the festivities/costs it gladly or sadly brings depending on just how worn out that wallet is. Without fail December is a time of joy and glad tidings, a time spent with family and friends. In Kenya as with in most parts of the globe this often means travelling back to the ancestral homes in the village or from one city to another in order to be closer to those that mean the most, and in every home this will mean more money out of that skinny wallet. I haven’t even mentioned the gifts that are often bought and exchanged; here too those faithful, hard earned bills and coins will change hands. This though is not the end of the spending, as one has arrived home, he or she is depended upon to provide more dough to purchase food and drink for the day, for no celebration is complete without roasted goat, cow or chicken meat to mark the season...
At this point the year is winding down and the New Year is being eagerly awaited by young and old. More plans are made on how to ring in the coming year, and no doubt more money will be spent wearing wholes into that worn wallet. New Years day comes and goes leaving most every Kenyan in a cold sweat and in a panic. With it January rings in the start of a brand new 12 months of schooling for every child. With it comes shopping for everything from pens and books to uniforms, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste for those going away to boarding school, thus more stretching and tightening the already tight belt in Kenyan households.
Given this expense loaded budget is the everyday Kenyan parent really going to consider that they can’t watch their favourite programs? Surely not! Not when they have rent, water bills and struggling to keep the electricity on and food on the table... This is a severe case of bad timing and even worse planning on the part of the Communication Commission, not to mention that 5000 bob is way too much for the average Kenyan family to afford even if the home is a double income household. When costs are stacked up this way television quickly fades to the dim background as no more than an all to expensive luxury that most will be forced to live without.
Normally when a country changes its signal from analogue to digital it is done in phases and the process takes a number of years as once the digital transmissions commence, existing TV services continue in both analogue and digital formats. This period is known as ‘Dual Illumination Period’ once enough people have migrated or in this case acquired the Set Top Boxes (which cost from 3,944- 5,000 shillings) the analogue transmission ceases and the digital one continues, known as the ‘analogue switch off’
In Kenya’s it can be argued that the ‘mwananchi’ has not yet been given enough time to make the switch, that was until the Media Association went to court and were given an additional 45 day to sort themselves out. So now we shall wait for June 2014 to see if our television sets go white once more...