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22 November 2009

CTV marches for freedom

Cape Town TV (CTV) will be staging a march on parliament to call on the South African government to keep community television on air. The march will take place at 10am on Wednesday, 25 November 2009. It will start at Keizersgracht Street (opposite the Castle) and end at the gates of Parliament.

The state’s broadcast regulator, ICASA, intends to switch off all community television stations next year as part of its digital broadcasting migration strategy. ICASA has not allocated any other frequencies for CTV to use and now plans to take the channel off air early next year to make way for cell phone TV.

But this is only one of the factors that directly threaten the existence of CTV and the other community television stations in SA. One of these is the thorny issue of government funding for the sector. Without government subsidies, it is very difficult for community organisations to sustain this form of public service broadcasting.

Certain costs are particularly problematic for community television, the main instance being transmission costs. Non-profit community TV stations are charged commercial rates for transmission facilities by the state-owned signal provider, Sentech.

Recently CTV had to go off air because it could not afford to pay Sentech. Says CTV Station Director Karen Thorne, “Through the Cape Town community’s support the station is now back on air, but this is not a long-term solution. Government funding is vital for this type of public service television to survive without being commercialised.

“CTV supports the Public Service Broadcasting Fund proposed in the Public Service Broadcasting Bill, but it could take years for community TV to benefit from it. In the meantime community television stations are under constant threat of being cut off.”

“An aggravating factor is that community TV operators are licensed through a one year ‘temporary’ license, which means they are not seen as secure long-term investment prospects and consequently struggle to attract financial support. The licensing period must be longer for community TV to be sustainable.”

In addition to these problems, community TV stations are not protected during and after the migration to digital terrestrial television broadcasting. To add insult to injury, government structures have no clear plan in place to secure community TV’s space on the airwaves after 2011 when all the other television broadcasters have made the transition to digital broadcasting.

CTV is demanding the following actions from government:

  • That CTV is not switched off when ICASA licenses a new cell phone TV operator next year but that a frequency is allocated to carry the channel.
  • The creation of a interim support fund for existing community TV stations, in addition to the speedy implementation of the Public Broadcasting Fund.
  • That Sentech provides CTV with a good quality signal and transmission for free or at a significantly reduced rate.
  • That community TV is protected during and after the migration to digital terrestrial television.

Comments CTV Chairperson Martin Jansen, “Most citizens are simply not aware of these threats to community television and have not made their voices heard. If we want to save community TV as the people’s voice, it is critical that we stand up for our right to communicate. We call on all citizens to join us in the march to parliament on Wednesday.”

For further information, contact CTV Chairperson Martin Jansen on 021 447 2727 or Karen Thorne on 021 447 8377.

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