30 September 2022
ASO to be tied to broad public consultation and registration for free STBs
Today is the last day to register for the government-subsidized set top box to enable those with analogue television sets to access digital terrestrial television. This registration date was set by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) after the Constitutional Court judgement of 28 June 2022 which, in favour of etv, the SOS Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), ordered the Minister, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni to hold a public consultation process with industry stakeholders prior to deciding the analogue switch off (ASO) date for South Africa.
As organisations that support public broadcasting, we are extremely anxious that today’s deadline was too tight coming just 12 weeks after the Constitutional Court judgment. We are concerned that insufficient eligible disadvantaged households will have been able to register considering issues such as loadshedding, relocation (and displacement) due to earlier floods, unemployment, existing socio-economic conditions, and the resultant poverty which makes online registrations expensive and difficult. We are also concerned that this will severely disadvantage households who are eligible, and we will be reviewing the registrations process carefully to ensure that the public interest has not been undermined.
As per the Constitutional Court’s order, we are still waiting for an announcement of the public consultation process and a sense of when the ASO date might be. The Coalition would like to remind the Minister of her obligation to undertake a public consultation process prior to deciding on the ASO date and to engage with interested parties including the community television sector, the SABC and with civil society groupings such as SOS and MMA.
The process must be a generous attempt to find an amicable advancement of digital migration that leaves no one behind, and has minimal deleterious effects on broadcaster’s markets and revenue (recognising that the partial ASO in Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces has already negatively impacted the SABC’s revenues). We look forward to encouraging wide participation in the process.
The digital migration process cannot result in South Africans having access to LESS information and content than was the case before the ASO. To date, the Minister has not demonstrated how the millions who rely on free to air analogue television for their news and information will not be left entirely uninformed given the current high costs of internet access and usage.
SOS and MMA assure the public that these organisations will attempt to safeguard its rights of access to news and information, particularly in the run-up to the 2024 elections. The Minister must take notice of the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the ASO and specifically on the need to act lawfully and rationally when determining the final ASO date after consulting widely.
For more information, please contact:
National Coordinator (SOS Coalition) +27606912462
Head of Programmes (Media Monitoring Africa) +27734707306