Cape Town – The South African government plans to cut off the Free State province’s analogue TV signals by December, a shock move in the long-stalled digital TV migration process that could leave millions of viewers in TV households without access to basic public broadcasting like the SABC and e.tv.
In a statement on Tuesday, the minister of communications, Nomvula Mokonyane, said she plans to cut off Free State TV viewers access to analogue TV signals by December.
Mokonyane, South Africa’s 10th minister of communications in 10 years, said she "appeals to the people of the Free State to start applying for the subsidy or purchase the digital-enabled equipment so that they are ready and enjoy uninterrupted transmission by the December date".
South Africa is far behind and have missed all deadlines for the completion of the so-called digital migration process – the switch from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) – due to a lack of leadership from the government and constantly changing regulations, broadcasting standard specifications and policies on encryption, as well as drawn-out court-cases, corruption and industry in-fighting.
The South African government originally promised that, in line with how other countries did it, analogue TV signals would only be switched off once the bulk of existing TV viewers have switched over. The problem is that millions of South African TV households watching analogue TV have not yet made the switch because they don’t know what to do or that they need to get a digital decoder or set-top box (STB), where to get it, or can’t afford one.
The danger in the switch-off of analogue TV signals before viewers have migrated to digital TV, is that it will cut huge swathes of TV households off and out of the TV ratings system, meaning a loss of available audiences for broadcasters like the SABC and e.tv whose advertising income and ad rates are based on audience rating (AR) numbers.
Only South African TV households with a households income of less than R3 200 per month qualify to get a free, government-subsidised STB, but people need to register and apply for this at the South African Post Office, along with ID, proof of residence and proof of income.
There are however millions of South African households in the country earning more than the R3 200 cut-off, who are still too poor to afford to buy a set-top box costing around R700, just to keep on watching the free TV channels after digital migration that they used to watch before the switch.
There are also the TV households who can afford to buy a STB, but who have no clue that they need to get one, what the process entails, or where to buy one and what exactly they need.
NEWLY ESTABLISHED ADVISORY COUNCIL
On Tuesday Mokonyane announced the members of a newly established Broadcasting Digital Migration Advisory Council. Their role is to help and advise the minister of communications about the DTT process.
Sentech's Aldred Dreyer has been appointed as the project director of South Africa's digital terrestrial television programme, overseeing a new so-called project management office dedicated to the government's stalled DTT switch-over project.
"Key among the council’s immediate task is to, in collaboration with the PMO advise the minister on the analogue-switch-over plan, including the countdown to the Free State province switch-off by December 2018 as announced last month and measures to accelerate the uptake of DTT by the citizens," said Nomvula Mokonyane in Tuesday’s statement.
Mokonyane said "the members of the Advisory Council shall be in office until analogue switch-over has been completed in the country".
The Advisory Council is chaired by Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa, councilor of Icasa.
The members of the advisory council are:
• Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa (Councillor – Icasa and chairperson of the Advisory Council)
• Aldred Dreyer (PMO project director)
• Nomsa Philiso (SABC executive)
• Norman Munzhelele (executive of regulatory division – eMedia Investments)
• Percy Mathabela (DTI)
• Linden Petzer (chief director for radio and satellite applications - DTPS)
• Themba Kinana (Vodacom executive)
• Moses Mashisane (MTN executive)
• Tebogo Leshope (Sentech COO)
• Thabo Makenete (MultiChoice executive)
• Michael Markovitz (SABC board member)
• Sipho Mngqibisa (Usaasa)