The Consumers Federation of Kenya (COFEK) has sued two digital TV service providers seeking compensation on behalf of thousands of Kenyans cut off from three local free-to-air channels (FTAs). In a case filed at the Milimani Courts yesterday Tuesday May 6, Cofek through its lawyer, Henry Kurauka, claims that GOtv and StarTimes sold set-top boxes to Kenyans on the promise that they would air FTAs, but the free local channels have since been off-air for close to a month now following a Court of Appeal ruling.
Acting on behalf of the consumer, COFEK argued that the continued absence of the three channels was a violation of subscribers’ rights and expectation to watch free-to-air content when they acquired Startimes and GoTV set-top boxes. COFEK claims the absence of the local FTAs could amount to the two pay channels misleading consumers into buying their services, an action which is contrary to the Consumer Protection Act.
“They failed to make the required full disclosure on the services so as to enable consumers derive full benefit from the gadgets,” Mr Kurauka told the High Court in Nairobi.
COFEK Secretary General Stephen Mutoro, in an affidavit, said COFEK had received numerous complaints over the consumers’ inability to access the channels despite the promise the two digital distributors had made while selling the decoders.The local FTAs went off-air after the April 11 Court of Appeal decision which barred GOtv and StarTimes from broadcasting content from the three media houses without their consent. The petitioners in the case were three local broadcasters NTV, Citizen and KTN.
The Appeals court ruled that carrying FTA channel signals without the consent of the owners infringed on the intellectual properties of the three petitioners and consequently GoTv and StarTimes stopped relaying their signals in compliance to the ruling. The stoppage of the free-to-air channels has inconvenienced consumers who are not party to the dispute between the signal distributors and the three media houses, according to the lawyer.
“Seeking the consent of the media houses to air their channels was the sole mandate of the pay TV channels and the subscribers who had paid to watch the channels had nothing to do with it. It is therefore the responsibility of the respondents to compensate the consumers,” said the lawyer.
Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi certified Cofek’s case as urgent and scheduled the hearing on May 14.