12 November 2014
Members of the Media, both print and electronic; Mainstream media and Community Media, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
Perhaps let me start by pre-empting what I suppose would top of mind for some you, that being the WC High Court dismissal of the interdict of the SABC Board Chair. As you may be aware that I have just come directly from a Cabinet Committee meeting and have not been briefed yet. So I will not be in a position to comment on that matter until I am fully briefed. However, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications is better placed at this stage to advise what the next course of action will be as this matter is in Parliaments hands.
Let me hasten to thank you for responding to our invitation to this press conference.
You may be aware that on the 15th of July 2014, the President of the Republic, His excellency Mr Jacob Zuma signed into effect Presidential Proclamation and published it in Gazette no 37839, where amongst others the Department of Communications was established and in particular the Broadcasting Act, ICASA, Brand SA and Films and publications Board were transferred into the New Ministry of Communications where I am the appointed Executive Authority.
Pursuant to this Presidential Proclamation One of key priorities for my Ministry was to revive and lead the successful delivery of the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Migration Project. This is a project which was brought to a standstill in December 2013 when a court decision halted the then Minister from proceeding to implement the Broadcasting Digital Migration (BDM) Policy. The Court action challenged the Minister’s authority to determine through policy the management of the Control Access System on the STB’s.
Since my coming into office on the 07 May 2014 and in compliance with the Proclamation by the President, I have embarked upon a consultative process to familiarize and inform myself with the relevant issues to be able to unblock this impasse on what we all know is a crucial project to unlock the economic benefits that are created by Digital Migration.
I have indeed already broadly consulted with various stakeholders in the communications industry including the manufacturers, the broadcasters and the regulator. This consultative process is still continuing. Only last week, I had a fruitful day of consultation with all the key stakeholders in a workshop in Pretoria where a number of key issues were identified that will be expedited to pave the path for a successful delivery of the project.
Among these issues wasthe need for policy clarity and legislation from government on the Digital Migration Project. A recurring policy question was whether South Africa should still continue to roll out STB’s or to leapfrog directly to IDTV. This question arose because of the shortness of time due to the ITU deadline of 17 June 2015. I am happy to confirm that after extensive consultation with various key stakeholders, we have reached the conclusion that STB’s must still remain as the preferred device to be used for the Digital Migration in South Africa. The new digital landscape will include IDTV’s which we encourage as an evolving technology for the second phase of the Digital Migration Process.
The second policy issue that we established to be key to the impasse was the issue of whether or not to adopt a Control Access System on the STB’s. As soon as I began my consultation on this matter, I established that there were very strong contesting positions around this matter. As you well know, the contestation led to the court challenge and decision that brought the then minister to a halt in December 2013.
As a result I am sure you will also understand that to pave a way ahead under those circumstances would require great caution and consultation with all stakeholders and parties involved. This is because the issue of Control Access or No Control Access will undoubtedly have a major impact on the STB and IDTV production industry and the future of broadcast communication for the majority of citizens in this country. I can say at this point that I have conducted significant consultations and I have also taken into account the developments that led to the impasse and the stagnation and I am close to reaching a recommendation to cabinet. I have prioritised that this matter is presented before Cabinet prior to year-end. A subsequent announcement around this matter will be made, watch the space.
In spite of this outstanding policy matter, however, there has been significant progress to revive discussions between the department and the industry on other strategic and operational aspects of the Digital Migration Project. I have given a directive to Mr Donald Liphoko the Acting Director General to appoint a Project Management team and to strengthen this with expert assistance from the communication industry.
The direct result of which was the establishment of a working group comprised of industry representatives to assist the Department’s DTT Project Team. Matters that are being resolved by this task team with industry experts relate to finalisation of issues such as Network Readiness, Regulatory Aspects, Standards of STB’s, the manufacturing and distribution capabilities, the readiness of the broadcasters to deliver digital content and launching of an extensive public awareness campaign to inform South African citizens about DTT.
I am pleased with progress that I have seen emanating from the work of this DTT Project Team so far and I am confident that as soon as we have received the approval of Cabinet, you will be the 1st to know. I will then be in the position to announce a Switch on Date of DTT in South Africa.
I invite you to watch and monitor this space as we gallop towards that momentous announcement.
On the Broadcasting Policy review Process.
The South African broadcasting landscape has undergone rapid changes in the last few years. In addition to many South Africans having access to a diverse range of communications and media services than ever before, many in their local languages, technological developments have led to the emergence of innovative services not previously imagined. It is now possible to access traditional communications and broadcasting services in new different ways.
Notwithstanding these dramatic changes, our broadcasting policy and regulatory framework is still focused on the traditional structures of the 1990s as many of the policy were developed as far back as during our transitional era in 1993. These frameworks now run the risk of inhibiting the evolution of communications and media services.
The convergence of technologies presents significant opportunities but also potential threats for traditional broadcasting systems. New business and delivery models are required to keep up with changes in consumer demands and viewing patterns. Elsewhere, the demands for content by the proliferation of channels has heightened beyond the supply, thus requiring us to invest massively in our creative industries to meet this demand.
Our creative industries can flourish in a converged environment that opens up new trade opportunities and cultural interactions with the rest of the world. A new policy and regulatory framework is needed to support these outcomes and reposition our industry for the complex and unpredictable technological future ahead and also to enable us to respond to the mandate given to us by the President.
We acknowledge that a lot of work has been done by the old Department of Communications in the recent past as evidenced by the Public Service Broadcasting Discussion document published for comments in 2009 and the Green Paper: ICT Policy Review released in February 2014. Based on the above, there is no need to start this review from a zero base. We are therefore going to build on this immense body of work, which many South Africans have made valuable contributions.
To further develop and refine these views on the new policy framework and ensure that the review is as comprehensive as possible, I will release a gazette inviting the public and industry to submit issues for consideration by the Minister next week. This is to ensure that the review does not only cover issues identified by the Department/government only, but it includes issues of public interest in relation to the communications indusytry. Questions that we expect to arise in this process could relate to:
- Our 3-tier broadcasting system;
- The structure, mandate, funding of public broadcasting services, including license fees;
- Community broadcasting;
- Must-carry obligations;
- Regulation of broadcasting services;
- Access to content of national interest;
- (Broadcasting) Signal down-linking and up-linking services;
- Local Content development;
- Development of local languages through broadcast;
- Ownership and control of broadcasting services;
- Management and allocation of broadcasting spectrum;
- The post analogue (broadcasting) signal switch-off;
- Existing institutional arrangements; and
- Funding of broadcasting development & diversity.
Upon receiving public inputs, the Department will release the emerging issues paper containing a list of matters raised by the public and governments responses on how they will be dealt with.
Given the period it took to amend the policies and noting the myriad of issues to be dealt with, the department will release a set of discussion papers. This is to ensure that those issues requiring intense discussions are given adequate attention. The first discussion paper will cover General Broadcasting Issues including the 3-tier systems, must carry obligations, regulations of broadcasting, local content, ownership and control, the period beyond Analogue signal switch-off, etc. The second discussion paper covers Public broadcasting. The isolation of public broadcasting is in recognition of this tier and the various issues confronting the public broadcaster that require serious attention.
The third discussion document will cover Community broadcasting and funding of media development and diversity in South Africa. A comprehensive final report from these discussion documents will be published for public consideration. The report and its recommendations inform the new White Paper on Broadcasting Policy to be published later in 2015.
During this review process the Department will hold individual meetings with leaders of media organisations, industry associations and community interest groups. In addition, the department will hold public forums in major centres and provinces of the Republic to solicit public views expressed through new media platforms such as MXit, Facebook and Twitter and the Review’s online discussion pages. A wide range of views expressed throughout the consultation process, together with commissioned research and analysis will be considered in finalise the new White Paper on Broadcasting Policy in South Africa.
As noted from the above, this is going to be an intense process of heightened activity and I urge you to support our work in partnership with the communications industry sector. In this period my door will remain open.
Watch this space.
Cell: 061 488 0634
Issued by Department of Communications