Another round of Icasa's community broadcasting regulation workshops

South Africa’s communications regulator Icasa is continuing with its series of workshops focusing on the regulatory framework for the community broadcasting sector. The latest round was scheduled to take place from 4 to 8 June.

The workshops are meant to provide a platform for stakeholders in community broadcasting to make inputs through written submissions on the draft regulations for community broadcasters.

Five sessions first held in Vereeniging, Rustenburg, Polokwane, Boksburg and Mahikeng, Thohoyandou and Pretoria. The remainder for the week were in Klerksdorp, Vryburg and Phalaborwa.

The workshops come after major resource challenges faced by the sector earlier in the year. Change Voices reported in April on the signalling cost crisis which led to Sentech taking several community stations off air for failure to pay for services rendered. Sentech is South Africa’s state-owned signal distributor for licensed broadcasters.

The series of workshops follow the publishing of Icasa’s Findings Document which is a summary of submissions made to Icasa on the proposed review of the community broadcasting framework. The Findings Document is supposed to offer some additional notes on stakeholder engagements on the draft regulations.

Stakeholder concerns

Among the concerns from stakeholders responding to the draft regulations was the difference that program syndication has on different types of stations. Syndication is when a program is broadcast by multiple stations.

The proposed syndication cap for community broadcasters is 20% of a licensee’s original programming. For stakeholders like the Pulpit Media Group, which caters for a primarily religious community, this puts them at a disadvantage because their communities of interest often coincide with stations in other areas outside of the area prescribed by their licence.

Pulpit Media Group is of the view that stations can save costs by sharing content when their communities of interest coincide.

In the Findings Document different stakeholders also expressed their attitude towards Icasa’s moratorium on new application for licenses to operate in the community broadcasting sector. The National Association of Broadcasters expressed concerns about how long the moratorium has remained in place. it has been in place since September 2015.

Another issue addressed in these workshops is corporate governance in community broadcasting. The draft regulations outline some roles to be fulfilled by the board and the station manager.

Funding problems

A serious matter for discussion at the workshops is sustainable funding for community broadcasters. Sentech suggested that the sustainability plans stations submit when they apply for a licence need closer scrutiny.

Some stations end up needing bailouts. This normally is not included in the financial plans they presented in their applications. The role of the support MDDA provides is also an important subject. Inkonjane Community Radio from Flagstaff believes the funds from MDDA are not designed to meet long-term needs.

The Association of Community Television South Africa (ACT-SA), which represents Tshwane TV, Bay TV and Soweto TV, pointed out the differences in resources needed to produce radio and television content.

The suggestion from ACT-SA was that community broadcasters should tap into four diverse revenue streams. These are government, commercial, non-government organisations and the audience.

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