The Paper reviews the broadcasting regulatory framework in the context of South Africa’s move from an analogue broadcasting environment to a new digital broadcasting environment.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has set a 2020 deadline for terrestrial television broadcasters in Africa to migrate from analogue to digital transmission. (The original deadline was 2015.) After this date frequencies set aside for analogue television transmission will no longer be protected against interference. South Africa is committed to meeting this deadline by 2013.
SOS and R2K note that the new digital broadcasting environment offers many potential benefits (more channels, special language features, the freeing-up of valuable spectrum space etc.). It also presents challenges around the high costs of the new transmitters, set top boxes (STBs) and programming to fill the new channel space. Also, if citizens have not purchased STBs when the analogue signal is switched off they may be cut off from television altogether! The Campaigns thus note the importance of keeping a careful eye on this process.
SOS and R2K are concerned about the timing of the broadcasting policy review. As ICASA is no doubt aware, the Minister of Communications has promised to undertake a broad-ranging review and updating of broadcasting policy which has not been done since the 1998 Broadcasting White Paper. SOS and R2K are thus concerned that ICASA’s Broadcasting Regulatory Review is taking place in a context of outdated legislation which is in urgent need of amendment
SOS and R2K thus formally request ICASA to communicate on the following matters:
• how ICASA plans to ensure that its Broadcasting Regulatory Review dovetails with new broadcasting policy, assuming that this is formulated in 2012;
• whether or not ICASA intends to wait for necessary amendments to the Electronic Communications Act and perhaps also the Broadcasting Act, 1999, before finalising its Broadcasting Regulatory Review; and
• how digital migration and general digital policy is to be included in all of the above processes.
SOS and R2K are anxious to see urgent broadcasting reform, at a policy, legislative and regulatory levels. However, it is concerned that these processes appear to be happening in tandem which, we fear, may result in an incoherent overall broadcasting environment. In this regard the SOS Coalition and the R2K Campaign believe that it is critical that the process develops in a coherent, orderly and participative manner starting with policy development, moving onto the legislative reforms and finally the passage of regulations that are in accordance with updated legislation and policy.
SOS and R2K members are obviously keen to participate in ICASA’s oral and written hearings on this process but clarity as regards the questions above would certainly help the Campaign to encourage members’ participation. Further, the Media Diversity Sub-Committee of the R2K Campaign believes that ICASA should make the 140 page Broadcasting Regulatory Review document available for free at all ICASA libraries. The costs of printing this document are prohibitive.
The SOS Coalition represents a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA, BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); and a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.
The Right2Know is a broad civil society campaign that was formed in opposition to the Secrecy Bill. The Campaign aims to ensure everyone living in South Africa is free to access and to share information. It is in this contest that the Right2Know has expanded its focus to fight for the right to access information more broadly as well as for a free and diverse media that is fundamental to any democracy that is open, accountable, and able to meet the needs of its people.