SADC broadcasters take stock of progress in digital TV, radio migration

By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek Close to 200 leaders in information communication technology and broadcasting are meeting here for the week-long Fifth Africa and Digitalisation Conference that began on Monday morning at the Gateway Conference Centre in Windhoek.

Stakeholders are drawn from various fields including broadcasting, content creation, satellite services, online distribution channels, innovation, research and development, telecommunications, policy and regulators from international organisations and the African continent.

The weeklong conference began with the annual general meeting of the SADC-Southern Africa Broadcasting Association (SABA) Broadcast Forum being held under the theme: “Strategies for stimulating content production and creating an enabling environment for sustainable telling of African stories”.

The permanent secretary in the Namibian Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana said the conference will deliberate on the status of digital terrestrial television (DTT) migration, success and challenges and post-digitalisation migration experience.

“This forum provides opportunities for member states to share personal experiences on the migration from analogue to DTT as well as experience on digital platform operating models, funding models and development of local content.

“Furthermore, the conference is expected to deliberate on best strategies which can be used to stimulate and incentivise the local content creation industries and how governments can get involved in supporting local content creation and providing funding through existing structures for the rich African continent market,” Ua-Ndjarakana said.

Apart from that, the delegates were also expected to deliberate on the proposed establishment of the SADC TV bouquet that will only focus on African stories.

The process of migration from analogue to digital broadcasting was set in motion in 2000 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and an agreement was signed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2006, setting June 2015 as the deadline for all countries in Africa, Europe and the Middle East as well as Russia to migrate to digital terrestrial television broadcasting technology in the ultra high frequency (UHF) band.

In his address, Ua Ndjarakana said although notable efforts have been done in terms of analogue switch-off, with a majority of the countries achieving the digital migration target by June 2015, a viable model was needed to encompassed local programmes.

He said while digitalisation brings a variety of benefits that includes better sound and picture, increased consumer choices as more programmes and contents would be accessed, internet access through digital TV, interactive services, video on demand and information services, it was a technologically intensive process that also required huge capital investment that several countries were still struggling with.

On her part, South African Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo stressed that the sourcing of local content should not be left in hands of broadcasters only but should be a responsibility of every stakeholder and that included both government as well as the private sector.

“Of course, it is the role of broadcasters to broadcast local programmes whereby Africans tells their own stories and correcting the image and perceptions of Africa mostly told by third party reportage and international organisations that Africa is a continent of disease, feminine and poverty.

“If you ask the world about Africa, all they will first tell you is it is a continent of disease, feminine, and war. They will also tell you about our presidents, the minerals that we possess and our tourism attractions but they really don’t know who we are as people because Africa broadcasts failed to produce content that tell African stories,” said Dlodlo, who represented South Africa as the chair of SADC.

The conference is being held in line with the aims of SADC, which are to present a television and radio platform that would strengthen the identities, cultures and aspirations of SADC and on the whole, the African continent through the use of new media and play a catalyst role for growing creative industries, the media and information communication technologies.

Stanley Similo, the director-general of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation, said DDT broadcasting has put financial burden on the broadcasters, making it difficult to achieve universal coverage.

Similo, who is also president of SABA, urged governments in the region to re-look at the funding strategies and models towards access to information and to make sure that they seliver services that are affordable and that marginalised communities are also connected.

During the AGM, member states made presentations on the status of DTT migration and digital radio, including successes and challenges, and shared experiences on post migration. The delegates also discussed the importance of radio to SADC communities and beyond for information dissemination.

The Fifth Africa and Digitalisation Conference on Wednesday will held under the theme:  “The Evolution of Broadcasting and the Next Business Frontier – Going Mobile”.

The continental conference will focus on the changes to the industry, the merger between media, telecommunications and IT industries which represent the next frontier for business growth and development, and the use of big data as smart data for content anytime and anywhere generation to stay ahead of the game.

 

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