Cape Town - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has hit back at allegations that it is applying draconian measures to have Radio Zibonele closed.
Last week, the Khayelitsha community-based station which boasts as the leading community radio station in the country said it was given seven days to close operations by Icasa.
This was due to issues the station had with renewing its licence. The station has been operating without a licence since 2018 and the Weekend Argus reported in 2019 that Radio Zibonele was among 29 stations which faced closure.
The late minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu and then-minister for communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams had intervened to try to find a solution and finalise a support strategy for sustaining community media. It seems there were no lasting solutions as the matter has come back to haunt the station.
On Friday, Radio Zibonele management claimed they had applied on time for license renewal and suggested that there were ulterior motives behind the imminent closure of Khayelitsha’s beloved station. They went further saying that they have evidence in the form of a paper trail to show that they complied with the regulator’s requirements.
The station organised a picket outside Icasa’s offices to demand that the regulator withdraw its move to close the station as that would not only affect the Khayelitsha community, but also the more than 60 people employed by the station.
Icasa came out on Monday saying this is misinformation and misrepresentation of facts. “The Authority would like to emphatically put it on record that we have no intention whatsoever to shut down any community broadcasting service licensee operating validly and in accordance with its licence terms and conditions.
“Zibonele FM’s licence expired on 25 October 2018. Unfortunately, Zibonele FM failed to submit the required renewal application for its licence in accordance with section 19(2) of the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) of 2005. Moreover, Zibonele FM failed to provide proof that its renewal application was submitted to the Authority before the expiry date of the licence. The ECA offers the Authority no scope to accept late applications in cases such as this.”
Icasa further said that in terms of section 7 of the ECA, no person can provide (or operate) a broadcasting service without a licence.
“As a result, Zibonele FM is currently broadcasting unauthorised, and Icasa is duly obligated to enforce the law.”
Police Minister Bheki Cele was approached yesterday by the community during the Imbizo in Khayelitsha to ask his counterpart, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, to intervene on the matter.
The Weekend Argus understands that Radio Zibonele management sent a letter to Ntshavheni on Wednesday last week where they admitted that the station had failed to comply with Icasa’s licensing rules, something they did not disclose during Friday’s press briefing where Radio Zibonele presented themselves as innocent victims in the situation.
The minister responded on Monday and in the response, which the Weekend Argus is in possession of, Ntshavheni starts off by saying: “As per your own admission in your letter, I have noted that Zibonele FM has failed to comply with ICASA Licensing Rules since 2018.
“I have since learned upon enquiry with ICASA that Zibonele FM is part of more than 20 community radio stations who despite the opportunities given by the ICASA and supported failed to comply with the Rules and they have all been shut down or (are) facing a similar fate.”
The minister then says that matters relating to broadcasting regulation are the sole domain of Icasa as provided for in the Constitution.
She, however, says she requested the newly appointed acting chairperson of Icasa Charles Lewis to meet Zibonele FM and the other community radios in a similar position to ensure fairness as espoused in the constitutional provision.
She closes it off by informing the station that it may directly liaise with Icasa to arrange the said meeting.
Radio Zibonele FM community radio’s programme manager Zweli Nokhatywa did not respond to questions sent to him about the latest developments.