Broadcasters are facing significant challenges, ranging from policy matters to the question of alcohol advertising and the move to digital terrestrial television. Nadia Bulbulia was recently appointed executive director of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), an organisation that punts itself as the “voice of the broadcasting industry.
The body represents over 80 organisations, who fund its operations. In turn, the NAB lobbies for its members, ensuring the voices of broadcasters are heard, and ensures the broadcast environment is “grounded in the principles of democracy, diversity and freedom of expression”.
The Media Online caught up with a busy Bulbulia, recently returned from Parliament, to find out what issues face the industry, and how the NAB hopes to deal with them.
Q:One of the biggest challenges facing broadcasting at the moment is DTT. But it appears to be mired in all sorts of issues right now, from complaints that the DoC is not on top of the challenge (or the minister) to delays in production of STBs. What is the NAB’s position on DTT and what would you like to see to ensure SA makes the deadline?
The members most affected by the DTT process have been constructively engaging with the DoC and ICASA in meeting the requirements for the digital switchover. At this point in time, the sector needs direction from the DoC on the start date of the dual illumination period, STB’s in the market in time for launch and a clear consumer/public education and awareness campaign to support the DTT switchover process.
Q. The head of the Discovery channel for EMEA countries says he believes one of the hurdles SA will have to jump when DTT comes to pass is whether we have a competitive enough advertising environment to support all the new channels. What do you think? Will our ad spend not be spread incredibly thin?
Multi-channel television has been a game changer around the world. There are always concerns about fragmentation, but there are also opportunities for more niched and targeted advertising to be developed across many more channels.
Q. Again, the production industry has complained of a lack of support for local content, and a major lack of funding. How do we start addressing this, considering the content demands that will be brought about by DTT?
The issue of funding local production has been debated for some time- we need a regulatory impact assessment to understand whether the quota system has been effective or whether there are other mechanisms which may be more effective. For example, the recommendation for the creation of a ‘production fund’ for the entire industry to access.
Q. The SABC has recently – or actually for quite some time – become the story rather than delivering stories. What needs to be done to stabilise and sustain the public broadcaster?
The SABC’s mandate to serve the needs and interests of all South Africans is fully appreciated and supported. The stability and sustainability of the public broadcaster is a matter of concern for the entire broadcasting industry. Adequate government funding is required as well as an holistic review of the board and governance structures.
Q. Is the NAB involved in opposing the Protection of State Information Bill? If so, what actions have you taken and will take in future should the bill be passed in its present format?
The NAB is not involved in this process.
Q. What research projects is the NAB currently involved in?
At any given time, the NAB is involved in a number of research projects. Current projects cover subjects like the future spectrum needs of broadcasting and international approaches to the regulation of alcohol advertising (an issue which is gaining momentum in SA).
Q. The Advertising Standards Authority is applying for ombud status. Do you think the industry needs this?
The NAB supports the ASA’s application for ombud status. The ASA has been effective since its inception and the ASA Code is reviewed regularly to ensure its relevance. The ASA has argued that recognition as an ombud will strengthen its role and increase its credibility; the NAB supports this view.
Q. What is your strategic vision for the NAB?
The NAB has been championing the needs of all three tiers of broadcasting (community, public and commercial) toward a viable, robust and competitive industry. This will intensify given the minister’s recently announced ICT Policy Review process – the NAB will play a pro-active role in this process.
A further key focus for the NAB is to build its research capacity and be regarded as an expert on all broadcasting matters. The NAB will be improving its stakeholder engagement and leading industry discussion and debate on a range of issues that affect the future growth, sustainability and viability of the broadcasting industry.
Q. What are the biggest over-arching challenges within the broadcast environment, in your view?
The environment is changing so fast that new challenges are constantly emerging, but I’ll focus on two:
1. Radio Frequency Spectrum – Issues of access to spectrum will dominate discussions for some time and consideration of how best to allocate the “digital dividend” (the radio frequency spectrum released after migration). There are suggestions that spectrum needs of broadcasting must be sacrificed for wireless broadband, but our view is that with careful planning, provision can be made for both these services. Until broadband services are affordable and accessible to the majority of citizens, radio and TV will continue to be the dominant platforms for South Africans to be informed, educated and entertained.
2. Review of current regulatory regime – broadcasting is the most heavily regulated sector of the economy and every part of the broadcasting value chain is subject to regulation in one form or another. Yet the same content can be accessed over other platforms which are subject to no regulation whatsoever. The current framework requires review and the challenge is to find a more flexible and agile regulatory regime that better enables innovation.