Cape Town - The big switch-off has been averted, giving analogue TV watchers another three months to change to government-issued digital set-top boxes (STB), after a last-minute court order.
The Pretoria High Court ordered Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni not to complete the analogue television switch-off in South Africa for another three months.
The case against the minister was brought by e.tv owner eMedia, Media Monitoring Africa and the SOS Save Our Public Broadcasting group.
Following the judgment, Minister Ntshavheni said she welcomed the deferment on the Analogue Switch Off (ASO) as it would give the government sufficient time to complete installations of set-top boxes for households who had registered and were entitled to receive these before the analogue switch off.
She said the department remained committed to ensure that the 507251 households that registered by October 31 last year were connected by no later than June 30.
She said the department would also ensure that 260868 households that registered between October 31 and March 10 were connected by no later than September 30.
The government has previously said migration from analogue TV to digital TV would help to release spectrum that is needed for a variety of telecommunications services and is one vital part of a global strategy to properly manage spectrum.
On Tuesday, civil society activists from the #SaveFreeTV campaign, who have been calling for a delay in the Analogue Switch Off until a minimum of 95% threshold has been reached with regards to the installation of subsidised set top boxes for indigent households, cautiously welcomed the court judgement.
Cape Town TV Station Manager Karen Thorne said: “We are enormously relieved that the court has chosen to take a more sensible route with the ASO, however we think that three months is not really enough time and we are really wanting further engagement with the minister.”
She said one of the issues mentioned in the judgment is that the minister needed to consult with all affected parties.
“Up until now, community television stations have been completely left out of all of the negotiations. I am hoping that this judgment will lead to a more collaborative and more inclusive approach where community broadcasters will also be part of the conversation.”
Thorne said they were all in favour of the digital migration as there were numerous benefits to be had and they had been ready for the switch for a long time but that the matter had been neglected and bungled over a long period.
“I appreciate the minister cracking the whip and getting on with it and finally bringing this thing to fruition, but we just believe it has to be done in a responsible manner.”
SOS Coalition spokesperson Rehad Desai also welcomed the judgment saying it gave everyone time to “sort their house out”.
“The big question, and this is something we are going to have to closely monitor, is the progress of the installation of free set-top boxes and to see if they are going to meet their targets. If they don’t, we’re going to have to ask them to delay further.”
However, Peoples Media Consortium spokesperson Hassen Lorgat said he thought the judgment was very conservative because it did not really affirm the constitutional right of participation and took for granted that the minister has consulted widely.
“From the beginning, in 2005, this thing was not thought out clearly in terms of how to bridge the digital divide. You can’t modernise against the wishes of the people.”
The campaign claimed in a statement that there are just under 16 million TV households in South Africa and around 36.2% of them currently access television via analogue-only transmission.
“As of October 2021, only 4% had digital reception devices installed. To date, just over 1.34 million households have registered for free set-top boxes but there is a massive backlog in supply and delivery, with only 616871 having been installed so far.”