What can we expect in public sector broadcasting, ICT and communications this year? Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi takes a look at the communications ministry, DTT and the SABC.
The sector is still reeling from the bifurcation of the communications ministry in June, last year. When the world is moving towards convergence, South Africa seems to be holding on to outmoded and unwieldily ways of defining and implementing ICT policy. With GCIS being moved out of the new ministry of communications, there’s little reason for the Department of Communications to continue operating and keeping its minister, Faith Muthambi, in a job.
Nevertheless, government won’t reverse what even it knows was an irrational decision from the get go, and the sector will continue to suffer for it. The turf-war raging between Muthambi (communications) and Cwele (telecommunications and postal services) will only intensify in the face of the waning scope of her authority, and broadcasting policy will probably be the next major stand-off. Midway into the long-awaited ICT Policy Review process, Muthambi launched her own parallel communications policy review and has set retaining control over broadcasting policy squarely within her crosshairs.
For the SABC, 2015 looks set to be yet another boring year of the SABC being the news instead of delivering it. We’ve just seen the same old divisions in the second board since the SABC’s financial meltdown confirmed with the resignation of Bongani Khumalo in January, this year.
At the heart of the problem is the campaign by government and political forces to control the broadcaster to achieve their narrow interests through carefully selected and well-protected senior executives. It’s a year on, and still no action has been taken by the SABC on the public protector’s damning report on the “pathological corporate governance deficiencies at the SABC”. One thing seems to be looking up, though, and that’s being subjected to less repeat broadcasts of ancient programming thanks to what is the incremental investment into fresh local content.
DTT is the word on everyone’s lips. After two “soft launches” and years of dithering by the department of communications under Dina Pule’s disastrous administration, it doesn’t at all look like we’ll even be able to launch in June 2015.
i) Cabinet has’t moved on implementing its decision to include the controversial conditional access system in the government manufactured set-top boxes (STB) – this in spite of having made the decision 14 months ago.
ii) USAASA is still months away from finalising a contentious subsidy scheme programme for people to be able to access STBs.
iii) The manufacturing tender hasn’t been awarded yet, so there aren’t even boxes to subsidise, let alone distribute.
It’s a help that we’ve given up on trying to fool ourselves that we’ll meet the ITU deadline, also June 2015, which means we can really focus on getting the migration right the first time around. But we’re still a long way off, especially considering that ordinary South Africans are already calling STBs the e-tolls of broadcasting.
Sekoetlane Phamodi is co-ordinator of the SOS ‘Support Public Broadcasting’ Coalition.
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