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ANC: Statement by Dina Pule, ANC NEC Member and Deputy Minister of Communications, on Digital Broadcasting Migration (14/09/2009)

14th September 2009

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The ANC Strategy and Tactics document adopted at our 2007 Polokwane Conference is instructive on the issue of building social cohesion and national identity, an area that the communications and media sector plays a critical role in.

It states that; "In promoting the intelligentsia, media freedom, and the diversity of views, the ANC will encourage appreciation by the media fraternity and the intelligentsia as a whole of the role that they can play in promoting human solidarity and a caring society. The same applies to the arts including music, oral and written words, craft, theatre and films".

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In the recent past, it was imaginary to think of accessing television services using mobile phones, something that has become a reality today. We never imagined that it might be possible to access more than twelve free-to-air channels on the SABC as compared to the three channels that are currently provided on analogue platform.

In line with the global trend and in keeping abreast with technological developments, our democratic government is leading a process to migrate broadcasting systems from analogue in order for the television and radio broadcasting services to be offered in digital formats. This means that the capacity we currently use for one channel, for example the current single SABC 1 channel, will multiply by up to six digital channels.

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Digital broadcasting means the transmission of programming and content through digital means. It is similar to moving from a gravel road to a highway which takes more traffic at a fast speed. The Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) Policy of South Africa issued in September 2008 defines broadcasting digital migration as "the process of moving the broadcasting of television and radio from analogue to digital".

The need to migrate broadcasting services from analogue to digital is mainly necessitated by the decision of the United Nations Agency for Communication, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which requires member countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting services by June 2015. The ITU's decisions are binding to all member countries and South Africa as a member state subscribes to ITU's global agreements.

Our national target is to migrate by 2011. This timeline is important because after the 2015 ITU's deadline, member states that fail to comply will not enjoy protection of their airwaves from harmful interference including signal theft.

It should be stated upfront that the success of the digital broadcasting migration programme depend on our ability to mobilise maximum participation of all the citizenry to support this initiative by taking the necessary action. All South Africans will be required to acquire set-top-boxes. A set-top-box is a decoder which "convert the transmitted digital signal to analogue" (BDM Policy of South Africa, 3:2008), for reception by an analogue television set.

The President of the ANC and the Republic, Cde Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, in his maiden State of the Nation Address on 03 June 2009, stated that, "Another development which should boost the World Cup is the roll-out of the Digital Broadcasting Infrastructure and signal distribution transmitters... He further stated "we have to ensure that we do not leave rural areas behind in these exciting developments". Therefore, this means that the impact of this process has to reach all households in the country particularly in rural areas.

The ANC-led Alliance and the mass mobilisation structures should engage in an extensive mass mobilisation programme with an intention to bring support for and awareness regarding the digital broadcasting migration to ensure high adoption of digital television. This popular campaign should be taken to the factories and production firms, mines, schools, higher education institutions, on the trains, buses and taxis, on radio and television, and at all levels of our society. Such a massive digital broadcasting awareness campaign is critical and must target our rural and urban masses who have limited access to information, particular people in the rural areas.

This paradigm shift of the airwaves also calls for an inclusive ongoing national discourse on our continued transformation agenda, as it relates to the democratisation of the media including print media, and in particular television and radio as the prime targets of the digital migration programme.

The good news for the South African population is that the ANC-led government has taken adequate steps to subsidise up to 70 per cent of the price of the set-top-box (STB), targeting the poor to ensure that every member of our society acquires it and enjoy the outputs of the digital revolution.

All television households who rely on terrestrial television broadcasters such as SABC and etv will be required to acquire STB in order to access the digital broadcasting channels using the current analogue television sets. The government subsidy for digital migration will go a long way in ensuring that our people especially the urban and the rural poor, and the working class continue to enjoy a great variety of programming whilst accessing public information and interactivity using the STB.

As we have committed in our election manifesto, the migration process should assist the ANC-led government to create decent jobs in the electronic manufacturing, whilst opening new business streams for the benefit of small and medium operators.

The objective of improving accessing to information for all, and particularly, the people living with disability, especially those who may read but may not hear (the deaf) will be able to enjoy television programmes through a closed captioning capability. In this case, the STB remote control will allow viewers to follow the broadcast by reading on the screen thereby enjoying amongst others, drama, movies and other talk shows programming.

In the Freedom Charter, we declared that, "the aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace". In our manifesto we have also prioritised amongst others the area of education and learning. The ANC-led government should accelerate the achievement of these goals including that of ensuring broadcasting services inform, educate, and entertain". In this regard, certain public channels should be dedicated to educating our people about our culture and heritage, our human rights and responsibilities as citizens, our democratic values and systems, responding to our linguistic diversity needs.

At the 52nd Polokwane Conference, the ANC resolved that, "to encourage a more representative and diverse media environment which must also address the qualitative transformation of the newsrooms that reflect the transformation agenda of the country".

The ANC-led Government is investing up to R2.4 Billion over a three years period for Sentech's signal distribution infrastructure upgrade. We are making a clarion call for a people-driven, and people-centred, inclusive digital broadcasting migration, where our people are the determinant and the beneficiaries of this venture both socially and economically.

The migration process is not only about technology, but is indeed about the economic and social benefits which would accrue from these progressive developments championed by our ANC-led government. We must ensure that our people share with pride on these benefits. In addition, digital technologies because of their efficient use of radio frequency spectrum (which is a scarce resource) means that more frequency spectrum will be freed-up which is also referred to as "digital dividend".

The migration to digital switch-over process, also presents the country with an opportunity to advance the transformation agenda, in particular, media ownership and control, to further curtail the influence of untransformed white controlled media, whose aim is to continue an ideological offensive to undermining the National Democratic Revolution (NDR), by creating a negative image of the democratic dispensation in our country.

The 2007 Polokwane Conference resolution is instructive on the allocation of radio frequency spectrum that such allocations must indeed contribute to the promotion of national interests, development and diversity. Such a freed-up spectrum must further contribute towards growing the country's economy through the licensing of additional television and radio stations, particularly those that are community-based.

Our television content must advance the goal of democratising South African society, to build nationhood, diversity, and common national identity. This means that our imminent multi-channel digital television services must be biased towards local content production and programming and growing the local content production industry.

Fundamentally, a political assessment of our transformation agenda in the communications and media is required. A second Jabulani Freedom of the Airwaves Summit which should draw the participation of progressive media houses and related business operators is proposed, which could be held in the next coming months. The first Jabulani Freedom of the Airwaves Conference was convened and hosted by Radio Freedom and Dutch Radio Omroep in 1991.

The outcome of the conference laid the foundation for the current legislative environment, including the advent of independent regulator, the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) today.

The should be a discussion on the future trajectory of our national media environment amid the persistent technological development and international media movement towards the Southern Hemisphere, which may pollute our broadcasting landscape with foreign and harmful content.

We should discuss the operationalisation of the Polokwane resolution on the establishment of the Media Appeals Tribunal, self-regulatory mechanisms and assess new opportunities which lies ahead, as well as, to set new policy goals for adoption by the next ANC National Policy Conference.

We also need to strengthen the participation of all structures of the ANC, the alliance, the Mass Democratic Movement structures, business, civil society and professional establishment in the ongoing discourse on building and advanced the Information Society.

 

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