Zambia says ready for digital migration


LUSAKA -Zambia is among more than 100 countries belonging to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that signed an agreement in 2006 to stop transmission of television signals in analogue format and move to digital.

But member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc set December 2013 as a deadline, with Zambia failing to meet the regional deadline.

This, as well as other pending issues, has forced stakeholders to conclude that the country may fail to meet the June 2015 deadline as well.

Apart from lack of sensitization about the switch, the government has admitted that it will not be able to migrate the system throughout the country but will first start with major cities before spreading to other parts of the country during the course of the year.

A simple survey conducted among some residents in some suburbs of Lusaka, the Zambian capital, revealed that many people are not even aware of the switch due to lack of public awareness programmes.

“I don’t know anything about that and what is digital broadcasting migration,” Wilson Mwale, a resident of the sprawling Mtendere compound asked when told if he knew anything about the switch.

“To be honest with you, the government has lamentably failed to give us full information on what is happening. We are just hearing that there will be television blackout but we don’t know what is really happening,” Grace Bwalya, a teller at one of the banks said.

These views were echoed by a cross-section of people who were interviewed, who expressed ignorance about the switch.

Costa Mwansa, general manager of privately-owned Muvi Television, agrees with the sentiments that the country is not ready to switch to digital broadcasting format.

Mwansa, in an article written in the Post Newspaper said the digital migration programme may spell doom for the country and that it may result in a television blackout.

“Come June 17, Zambia may be plunged into television blackout that may affect many viewers or simply the majority of our people. This is simply because millions of viewers will be caught up in a scenario that will see television sets unable to work,” he said.

According to him, Zambia is racing against time to meet the much-anticipated deadline for migration from analogue to digital broadcasting because the country has not set its domestic target for migration.

The project, he added, is threatened by the lack of clear implementation mode to facilitate the smooth transition. 

This is due to an elusive and uncoordinated publicity from stakeholders to curtail consumer uncertainty.

“There has been no activity built around the transition or migration stages for Zambia that I am aware of. 

Television remains a huge platform for information dissemination, with great influence on citizens. In this modern day and age, the medium cannot be denied to the citizens in a country like Zambia which is building on its democratic credentials,” he added.

But the government has brushed aside sentiments that the country is not ready to migrate from analogue to digital television broadcasting format.

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Godfrey Malama denied assertions that there will be a television blackout as a result of the digital migration project, saying the country is ready for the move.

The official, who was speaking when he inspected the first batch of equipment to be used during the implementation of the digital migration process, said the exercise will be conducted in phases with phase one to be conducted in major cities while other parts of the country will switch before the end of the year. 

“I want to assure the public that there will be no blackout for television viewers in the country because the exercise is simply the migration from analogue to digital,” he said recently.

The exercise, he said, will be conducted in three phases with the first phase scheduled to cover cities along a major railway line that runs from the southern part to the Copperbelt Province.

The second and third phases will cater for provincial centres and far-flung rural areas, he added.

According to him, the areas which will not able to switch to the new system will continue under the analogue system because analogue television would be available until such a time that it is replaced by the digital one.

Among the equipment donated by the Chinese government include generators, a tower, a transmitter, outdoor shelter, satellite antenna, feeder cable and a solar power system valued at 9.5 million U.S. dollars.

Chinese firm, Star Times Communication Network Technology Group won the tender to supply the equipment.

On the other hand, Zambia’s public broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), says it is ready for the switch and that there is no need for apprehension by people.

Masuzyo Ndhlovu, corporate affairs manager for the state-owned Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), said the public broadcaster is ready for the switch and that it is currently conducting test trials for Lusaka, the country’s capital from midnight to 10:00 a.m. except for Saturdays.

It is evident that there is no turning back in migrating from analogue to digital television broadcasting and countries that are not ready may suffer negative repercussions. 

 Already, the ITU has rejected a proposal by some African countries to have the deadline extended after a lobby by the African Union (AU) during the 8th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the AU of Broadcasters. 

So, the question of whether Zambia is ready for the switch will only be known after June 17, 2015. – NAMPA / XINHUA

April 2015
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