As the country’s deadline to switch off analogue broadcasting nears, the SABC board says the move will leave at least 14 million people without television.
The board is hoping the Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni will extend the deadline of March 31, 2022.
For more than a decade, the SABC has supported the Digital Migration policy, however it is in talks with shareholders and Ntshavheni to extend the deadline due to the potential impact the change will have on the public.
Last year, during the State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa must complete the broadcast digital migration by March 31, 2022.
However, only 159 000 households out of about 2.9 million have installed set-top boxes or TVs with integrated digital receivers. Some 5.7 million households are receiving an analogue broadcast signal.
Although the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting brings along great benefits – such as enhanced TV offerings for the viewer, more content variety and choices for the public and a public bouquet services that will allow viewers to receive all 19 SABC radio stations – the SABC says a premature switch-off will deprive millions of people of important public television services.
“The SABC believes that the extension of the ASO timetable will ensure that no South African is left behind or denied access to Free-To-Air television and public television services. The plan to switch off all ATV transmitters despite the slow progress of STB (set-top box) registrations and installations, presents an unsustainable risk to the rights of millions of indigent households,” it said.
The Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, designated for switch off on March 31, 2022, comprise 68% of the South Africa’s population.
The statement further read: “This number is simply too low for the SABC’s ATV services to be switched off in the four largest provinces, at this stage. The SABC engages with the Digital Migration Project mindful of its inescapable constitutional and legal obligations to the people of South Africa.
“The corporation will do everything possible within the Intergovernmental Relations Framework and the law to safeguard its interests and protect the rights of every citizen to access public television services.”
The #SaveFreeTV campaign, which is supported by more than 70 organisations, backs the SABC’s position.
“We welcome the SABC’s public statement supporting a delay of the switch-off noting that Free-to-air broadcasters are now united in rejecting the government's plans.
“We implore the minister to sit down with all FTA television operators, as affected parties, to draw up a realistic roadmap for the responsible, phased switch-off of analogue television in a way that delivers on the much-needed ’digital dividend’ while protecting free tV services,“ said Mark Weinberg, the #SaveFreeTV organiser.