Despite intense pressure from South Africa’s two biggest terrestrial television broadcasters, communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni appears adamant that analogue TV will be switched off this Thursday.
In a statement at the weekend, the department of communications & digital technologies — for which Ntshavheni is the political head – claimed that of the 11.5 million TV-watching households in South Africa, 11.5 million have “self-migrated as they watch TV through satellite and will therefore not be affected by the analogue switch-off”.
“The benefits of the digital migration and ending dual illumination (of analogue and digital signals) far outweigh any short-term inconvenience that may happen after the analogue switch-off,” the department said.
The department’s comments come after the SABC on Friday issued a statement in which it criticised the minister’s plan to switch off analogue broadcasts on 31 March. The public broadcaster described the move as “premature” and an “unsustainable risk” to the rights of millions of indigent South African households who have no other way of receiving free-to-air television.
Government has mismanaged its pledge to prove millions of poorer households with a set-top box to allow them to continue receiving the SABC, e.tv and other free-to-air broadcasts once analogue signals were terminated as part of the country’s long-delayed migration from analogue to digital terrestrial broadcasting.
Government had originally promised to deliver more than five million government-subsidised free boxes to indigent homes but has delivered only about a fifth of that number. Although the original target may have become too high given many South Africans have moved to satellite in the intervening years, e.tv and the SABC contend that government’s roll-out of free boxes has fallen well short of what’s necessary.
E.tv parent eMedia Holdings has taken Ntshavheni to court over her plans to switch off analogue signals, with a judgment in that case expected in the next few days.
‘Simply too low’
In its statement on Friday, meanwhile, the SABC pleaded with government not to switch off analogue broadcasts in South Africa’s four biggest provinces – Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape – at the end of the month, saying only 165 000 government set-top boxes, out of 2.9 million qualifying households, had been installed by February.
“The number is simply too low for the SABC’s analogue TV services to be switched off in the four largest provinces, at this stage,” the corporation said.
The communications department said in its statement that the minister receives daily updates on the progress of the set-top box installations. “Working with entities in the portfolio, the department has to date registered in excess of 1.4 million indigent applicants for government’s free decoder and installation,” it said. “The installation process continues countrywide, and more than 1.2 million households would have their free decoders by the analogue switch-off date.” — © 2022 NewsCentral Media