Johannesburg - The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) has warned that broadcasters will face fines of not less than R100 000 daily if they do not provide sign language interpreters for at least half of their prime time bulletins.
The communications regulator’s has set out new Covid-19 national disaster regulations that licensees must adhere to during the national state of disaster declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month.
Icasa’s regulations are set to facilitate the dissemination of information required for dealing with the national disaster, to enable the facilitation of the national response as well as to assess post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation.
Icasa notified broadcasters that should they contravene these regulations, they would be fined.
In terms of the regulations, television broadcasting services have an obligation to persons with disabilities during the national state of disaster.
Icasa has also told television news broadcasters that they must ensure that they broadcast all media briefings by the national command council which was established by Ramaphosa to co-ordinate the government’s fight against the pandemic and must include a sign language interpreter.
According to the regulations, broadcasters must ensure that they use sign language interpretation in at least 50% of news broadcasts between 7am and 10am and from 6pm until 9pm on a weekly basis.
The regulations will apply for the duration of the national state of disaster and Icasa has given broadcasters until tomorrow to implement the provisions relating to catering for persons with disabilities, and these will automatically cease three days after the termination of the national state of disaster.
Community television broadcasting services are exempt from complying with the regulations in relations to persons with disabilities, according to the regulator.
The SABC uses sign language during broadcasts of events of national importance to ensure that they are accessible to the widest range of South African language communities.
According to the public broadcaster’s editorial policy, special efforts are made to provide sign language interpretation when programmes are recorded in front of live audiences.
Last month, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, pleaded with governments to establish clear protocols for public health emergencies to ensure that, when medical resources are scarce, access to health care including live-saving measures do not discriminate against people with disabilities.
Meanwhile, Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams amended the electronic communications, postal and broadcasting directions issued last month in terms of the Disaster Management Act of 2002.
The new directions state that electronic communications service licensees must zero-rate all Covid-19 sites identified by the department of health as well as all calls to the national number for Covid-19.