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Minister insists digital migration is on track

Her remarks come despite litigation that could derail the process.
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. Image: Siyabulela Duda, GCIS

Migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television is on track as a total of 572 255 beneficiary households for subsidised set-top boxes have been migrated from the current total of 1 228 879, communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said.

Her remarks, at a press conference on Wednesday, come despite litigation that could derail the process.

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The minister said on Wednesday that government concluded the analogue switch-off in the Free State at the end of last month without any TV blackouts. She the last active analogue transmitter in the Northern Cape, in Upington, will be switched off this Friday.

“We are also on track to conclude North West in line with the plan,” she said.

Broadcast signal distributor Sentech has now switched off all 84 MultiChoice analogue transmitters, 113 out of 288 (40%) of SABC transmitters and four of the 95 (4%) used by e.tv.

“The past month was also used to ramp up installer capacity in line with the managed integrated model as per the approved plan. Sentech’s installer capacity for the remaining provinces has been created, and this will intensify installations in the following months in all remaining provinces,” Ntshavheni said.

“I have established a project steering committee that is made up of key stakeholders, and we continue to meet to review project progress and resolve on matters escalated by the project operations structure.

“The analogue switch-off programme has been adequately resourced with human capacity and funding, and the governance structures continue to drive implementation in accordance with the approved plan,” she said.

Rushing the process

Despite this upbeat assessment, the project could still be derailed. Broadcasting industry insiders approached by TechCentral say privately that the minister is rushing the process and trying to meet a March 2022 deadline for analogue switch-off countrywide that is not feasible. President Cyril Ramaphosa made the commitment to meet this deadline in his state of the nation address earlier this year.

eMedia Holdings, the parent of e.tv and Openview, has gone to court to argue that the March deadline cannot be imposed on the industry. Last month, Ntshavheni published a schedule for digital migration, according to which all nine provinces will have terminated analogue broadcasts by 31 January 2022.

But eMedia CEO Khalik Sherrif, speaking to TechCentral in an interview last month, said the shortest possible time in which the project could be completed without causing serious harm to the broadcasting sector was 15 months. Anything less, he said, would harm e.tv and other broadcasters and would flout provisions of the constitution dealing with the broadcasting sector.

“It can’t be done in the time they (government) propose. It absolutely cannot be done,” Sherrif said.

Duncan McLeod is editor of TechCentral, on which this article was first published here.

(c) 2021 NewsCentral Media, with additional reporting by SANews.

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