Spotlight on broadcast regulations


An Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) conference on 20 and 21 February brought together international guests and local stakeholders to discuss broadcasting regulations in the digital future.

Submissions were made from local organisations including the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA); the South African Communications Forum (SACF); the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE); the Film and Publication Board (FPB); the Communications Workers Union (CWU); the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition; South African Screen Federation (SASFED); Media Monitoring Africa (MMA); the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB); and the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF).

The international delegates from Australia, Canada and the Isle of Man also shared their countries’ experiences around the migration to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

ICASA chairperson Dr Stephen Mncube started the proceedings and noted that ICASA had already consulted with NGOs, media houses, training organisations and community broadcasters during an eight-province roadshow.

“We have engaged with industry representatives, heard their views and took them into account,’ said Dr Mncube.

“At ICASA we are always trying to benchmark ourselves against international best practice, and this consultation process will help to inform our regulatory interaction with Minister of Communications Dina Pule.’

“Revolutionary ICASA’
Chairperson of the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Communications, Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, noted the importance of putting international input into the proper South African context.

“You can benchmark, but you can’t photocopy,’ said Kholwane. “We’ve got our own unique challenges.’

Among the challenges he mentioned are poverty, inequality and unemployment; he emphasised a lack of transformation in the broadcasting sector.

“We can’t remain stagnant. We want this sector transformed – it’s not a matter of choice,’ said Kholwane. “There are a lot of barriers to entry, especially to commercial broadcasting – those barriers need to be removed so that the commercial sector can flourish and we can see the competition that is needed.’

Kholwane noted that he wanted the regulator to play a stronger role in leading the sector. “I dream about a revolutionary ICASA,’ he said.

He also emphasised the question of local content. “I don’t think we’re taking ourselves as a country, our cultures and our indigenous languages seriously. The quotas leave much to be desired. If you (ICASA) don’t move quicker to address this, we will have to legislate, but we believe there are enough structures in place to deal with this,’ said Kholwane.

“We need to use digital migration as one key area that can help us transform the broadcasting sector. “

ICASA councillor William Curry described the regulator’s issue paper on broadcast policy and regulation – noting that the previous policy is more than 10 years out of date.

“The objectives of the audit are to examine the relevance and efficacy of the existing broadcast regulatory framework in a digital environment and assess how to balance regulating in the public interest while ensuring effective competition,’ said Curry.

“We’re now facing the threat, as well as the opportunity, of digital broadcasting. This is an opportunity for transformation, to build and grow the broadcasting sector.’

He said that the ICASA consultation was published on 8 December and would close for written submissions on 16 March, with public hearings to be held from 26 to 31 March.

Dr Teboho Maitse, acting chairperson of CGE noted that broadcasting regulation needed to support the use of indigenous languages by the public broadcaster and take a stand on pornography.

“Pornography sends a message contrary to what government is trying to achieve in the battle against HIV/Aids,’ said Dr Maitse.

FPB acting chief executive officer Mapula Makola noted that what they propose for future broadcasting regulation is a harmonisation of approach to the guidelines for classification of content across all platforms.

“Different labelling systems are applied to similar content on different platforms. This causes confusion and a lack of public confidence in our content classification systems,’ said Makola.

MMA also noted the importance of ICASA playing a strong role and being properly resourced, as well as the importance of ICASA’s independence from both government and commercial operators.

Marc Schwinges from SASFED focused on ICASA’s negligence around monitoring of local content.

According to SOS coordinator Kate Skinner they emphasised the importance of policy, legislative and regulatory coherence. “I stressed that ideally it would have been better to wait for the conclusion of the broadcasting policy review because we need a new coherent broadcasting vision. From there we should have had legislative amendments and then embarked on this review,’ said Skinner after the conference.

By Linda Loubser
Screen Africa Magazine – March 2012


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