26 May 2018


Radio stations back on air, Sentech berated 

by: Semphete Correspondent    date: 26 April 2018

Community radio stations that were suspended by signal distributor, Sentech, are back on air. This after Sentech lifted its suspension of 15 radio stations that were cut off because they owed signal distribution fees. 
Minister of Communications, Nomvula Mokonyane and broadcast industry stakeholders intervened and engaged Sentech on behalf of the radio stations that are the first go-to information platform for local communities they broadcast to. 
In Bokone Bophirima, Mmabatho FM in Mahikeng and Kopanong FM in Lehurutshe were affected. 
Last week Minister Mokonyane, the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) met Sentech to end the stalemate. 
“We have managed to broker an agreement between the parties that will be aided by our support to the community radio stations through the MDDA. Sentech has agreed to reconnect all suspended stations and will not effect any further suspensions in the short-term whilst we seek to find sustainable solutions to the financial viability of the community media sector,” said Minister Mokonyane after the meeting. 
If it wasn’t for this intervention, 17 more community radio stations would have been suspended from broadcasting as Sentech tried to recoup R33 million owe to it by community radio stations. 
Minister Mokonyane said stakeholders that met to resolve this matter have also agreed to engage the community radio sector “through a process aimed at strengthening governance, financial management, revenue generation and skills development within the sector. The above will create an environment wherein community radio stations are geared to attract investment and advertising expenditure from both the public and private sector”.  
Some radio stations that were taken off air demanded that government intervenes to ensure a moratorium on suspension of services by Sentech, debt write-off or the Department of Communications to release funds for Sentech debt, restructuring of Sentech pricing for community radio stations and an annual grant to community radio stations to help with their financial woes. 
Meanwhile the Right2Know Campaign said switching off community radio stations means that local communities lose their access to media and their right to know. 
“Mounting debts to Sentech for signal distribution are a common problem for many community radio stations. Community radio stations are an important part of the social, political and economic lives of many South African local communities. The impact of Sentech’s decision has a ripple effect on communities where these radio stations are located, including station employees, stakeholder partners such as community based organisations and NGOs as well as community members themselves. Community radio stations voice out local concerns and help find local solutions,” Right2Know Campaign said in a statement. 
The lobby group said as non-profit entities, community radio stations’ role in democracy “cannot be minimized. Without them, the rights of local communities to access information and freedom of (media) expression are under severe threat.  This calls for an urgent state response into the funding of South African community radio stations”. 
Minister Mokonyane said government would host a Community Radio Sector Summit next month (May 2018) to provide a platform to further explore the variety of challenges and opportunities that exist within the sector.
“The community radio sector is a critical communication platform to ensure we provide our people with access to information in their communities as a means towards the creation of an informed citizenry. It is for this reason that we cannot allow the sector to collapse,” she said.