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Malawi government under fire over digital migration

Outspoken consumer rights activist John Kapito has torn into government’s decision to switch off the country’s analogue television broadcasting system to digital broadcasting by next Wednesday as a total infringement of consumer rights following the state’s failure to conduct enough sensitisation that can necessitate smooth transition to the new system.

Kapito’s remarks come as the country is counting down to the total switchover date as prescribed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that member states should migrate to Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) broadcasting technology.

“Though the date for the switch over is nearing, government has continued to drag its feet in sensitising consumers about what will happen. Digital migration is not about the broadcaster nor is it for government but the consumer. The benefits of this should have been sold to the consumer for them to understand.

“The moment government starts acting with an iron fist on the switch over then that will be a recipe for disaster on the part of the government and the regulator and not the broadcaster because they still hold legitimate licences,” Kapito said.

He said the move to sideline concerns of consumers is likely to infringe on their right to information as they will have no access to information that comes though televisions.

Kapito said the government still has a lot of work to do such that it would be better for it (government) to make the day symbolic as it is the case in other countries so that the country prepares for a full migration.

He also lashed at the government for pricing Set Top Boxes (STBs) exorbitantly and for not ensuring that they are available on the market in time for the switch over.

“The STBs that are already on the market for people to buy are very expensive for a common Malawian. Though the move to go digital has its own benefits including enhanced picture and production of local content, the way Malawi is doing it leaves a lot to be desired,” said Kapito.

Digital migration coordinator Denis Chirwa, however, challenged that the analogue signal switch will still go ahead and that they will start with Mzuzu and Zomba cities before extending to Lilongwe and Blantyre in the near future.

On his part Times Group Managing Director Leonnard Chikadya described the charge imposed on television stations as unrealistic and that the stations were not fully involved in the process. He said the charge on STBs was almost an impediment to local Malawians to access television signal.

Asked whether the broadcasters were fully involved in the migration process Chirwa said all television stations were engaged throughout the process and that it would be unjustified to argue otherwise.

He said the charge on TV stations cannot be compared to that of other countries like Tanzania where stations are charged close to US$ 3,800 per channel.

“In Malawi broadcasters will only cough US$450 and if you look at the charge, you will agree that it is reasonable compared to other countries that are also using the same system. The government of Malawi is pumping in more money than what the broadcasters will pay,” said Chirwa.

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