Community radio stations shut down due to R33m owed to broadcast signal provider Sentech are back on air.
Sentech has restored the signal of 15 community radio stations after a deal brokered with communications minister. Image: Creative Commons
This comes after a deal brokered during a meeting on April 20 2018 between Department of Communications Mininister Nomvula Monkonyane and the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), Sentech and Icasa.
After the meeting Mokonyane said they looked at the reasons for the closure of the stations.
“We have since looked at the reasons behind that and agreed that there is need to give support, but also to hold community broadcasters accountable in terms of compliance with financial management,” Mokonyane said.
Sentech started cutting off the signal of 15 radio stations on April 12 2018, a further 17 were warned of the suspension of services if their debts were not serviced. Sentech is a South African state owned enterprise that provides the signal to the country's radio stations.
According to the department of communications community radio stations owe Sentech R33 million for services rendered.
The meeting followed a day after negotiations between Sentech, NCRF, MDDA about how to address the crisis.
NCRF had requested a list of all the stations owing Sentech. According to the forum’s First Deputy President Xola Nozewu the plan was to divide the stations into two lists. On the first would be stations that can arrange favourable payment terms with Sentech.
The second list would have those unable to make any payments. NCRF and MDDA would then go back to the department of communications to seek a solution where the stations and Sentech would meet each other halfway.
“The solution might be to change the current formula and a new sustainable model can be adopted. It could involve looking at a new signal distribution plan that will be able to take into account stations that are unable to pay Sentech for transmission costs,” Nozewu said.
Karabo FM station manager Duncan Sinthumule told The Voice of the Cape that Sentech had sent letters of demand in November 2017 to 108 owing community radio stations. The stations were informed about the intention to suspend services if their debts were not serviced.
In June 2017 the portfolio committee on communications in parliament expressed concerns about the lack of support on community media.
After concluding a three day fact-finding mission in KZN on June 29 the committee said it was “troubled with the high costs associated with signal distribution charges by Sentech”.
In response to the calls for the crisis to be addressed the ANC's Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu said on twitter all stakeholders must be summoned to parliament.
The MDDA is a statutory body established to promote development and diversity in South Africa's media.
In its 2016/17 annual report the MDDA supported 39 community radio stations. Of the almost R54.6m approved for that financial year about R9.8m was paid.
During the same financial year the report shows a drop in government spending on advertising on community radio from about R26.3m for the year 2015/2016 to about
In an impact report submitted to parliament in Feb. 2018 MDDA suggested that Sentech fees should be paid by government.
Stations struggle to generate revenue
Generating revenues from advertising is challenging for community radio stations.
Forte FM's station manager Siya Emete said the shutdown has crippled business for them.
“When you are offline there is no business. This affects operations. The community cannot be served in the way pointed out in our licence,” Siya said.
Forte FM owes Sentech R411 000. Siya says the station has no money available to pay the amount owed.
The station's broadcast signal was cut abruptly around 11am on 12 April. The staff only became aware of the halt in programming through messages from listeners.
Another station that faced a shut down in May for owing R400 000 is LA FM in the Joe Gqabi District Municipality which also broadcasts to three other municipalities.
The station was conceptualised in November 2008 by the area's youth to solve the problem of lack of communication between the municipality and its people.
LA FM station manager Ignatius Mnyamana said they normally pay Sentech by combining funds from revenues generated from services rendered to clients and funding from MDDMA but lately they have been struggling.
“Most clients want things to be done for free for them, especially government departments. They say they don’t have a budget. Right now we have problems with the district municipality that needs broadcasts but are not able to afford them,” Mnyamana said.
Vukani FM managed to survive because they decided to widen their coverage. Station manager Xola Nozewu said they had to come up with a sustainable way of generating revenue.
Their plan involved consultation with stakeholders in the district that included talks with all its six municipalities. Nozewu says its here that they stressed the benefits of community radio for all involved.
From these consultations came a plan on how the municipalities allocate money for advertising on the station. The station also gets the support from companies in the region but it still struggles with attracting advertising from the private sector.
“Big companies do buy advertising space and that does assist with generating revenue. For small businesses the station has had to change the packages it offers,” Nozewu added.
He said they had to advertise at lower rates that smaller businesses can afford.