Chinese firm to control media signal


Local television journalists at work. A Chinese firm has been awarded a tender to provide media content in the country.

A Chinese company has been given a contract to distribute media content in Kenya in a decision that could invite controversy.

The company has got the licence to distribute digital broadcast signal, giving it control of key strategic infrastructure and role in Kenya’s transition to digital broadcasting.

China does not have a free press and is notorious for censoring the media, including over the Internet, and restricting civil liberties.

The Chinese company became the automatic winner after the Procurement Appeals Tribunal on Tuesday dismissed an application by a consortium of local companies that challenged the award of the tender of the licence by the Communications Commission of Kenya.

The local consortium was made up of local broadcasters, the Nation Media Group and Royal Media — the owners of NTV and Citizen TV — respectively. The Nation Media is also the publisher of the Daily Nation.

Tuesday’s, ruling read by a member of the Appeal Tribunal, Mr Akich Okolla, was greeted with uproar within the broadcasting industry, with key players questioning the wisdom of granting control of such a national strategic infrastructure to a Chinese company, especially in view of China’s record on press freedom.

The CEO of NMG, Mr Linus Gitahi, has already sent notice that the group will appeal against the ruling of the tribunal in the High Court.

The profile of Chinese companies in Kenya has been on the rise, with Chinese contractors winning large contracts in road construction, building of new pipelines, airports, ports, telecommunication and energy sector jobs.

Curiously, the company that has won the tender, the Pan Africa Media, a part of Star Times of China, has no experience in Kenya, having been registered in the country hardly a week before the tender was opened.

And, contrary to practice in international tenders, the tender for the second signal distributor was not advertised internationally.

Considering that tender regulations required that a bidder had to have a tax compliance certificate, it is a mystery how the Chinese managed to pass this hurdle in view of the fact that Pan Africa Media was registered two days before the tender was opened.

Local broadcasters

Critics have also questioned why local broadcasters have been locked out of the deal despite the fact that the national information and communications technology (ICT) policy published in January 2006, commits the government to promote participation of local investors in companies that own critical telecommunications infrastructure.

Pan African Media is wholly owned by the Chinese. Currently, there is only one licensed broadcast distribution network, namely, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

The tender was floated with the intention of getting two other signal distribution networks to bring competition to bear on the area of broadcast distribution.