Two ministers have entered the fray over the closure of around 29 non-compliant community radio stations by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), stating on Friday that they want to find a solution urgently.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu and Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said in a joint statement that the community media sector played a “catalytic development role” by offering an alternative voice and advancing social cohesion.
They thus felt it important that the sector be properly supported to be compliant and sustainable and intend to convene a meeting to find a solution on November 7.
The meeting was expected to include the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), Icasa, the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) and Sentech.
Last week, NCRF general secretary Thabang Pusoyabone said they had held an emergency meeting to come up with a plan of action after claiming Icasa shut down 43 community radio stations.
“The real threat to the community radio sector is that it has become easier for the state to close community media projects. That is risky for media freedom and diversity in South Africa,” he said in a statement.
But Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka said the number was around 29 stations and their closure was because they did not possess the required broadcasting licences.
Icasa had not embarked on a mission, nor had plans, to shut down any validly operating community service, Maleka said.
“Whilst Icasa appreciates and supports the critical role that the community radio sector plays in promoting social cohesion, fostering diversity and uplifting or empowering our communities, Icasa will neither promote nor allow illegal broadcasting and illegal use of the radio frequency spectrum,” added Icasa CEO Willington Ngwepe.
“It is for this reason that the closing down of any community radio station or any other licensee becomes a step that is taken as an absolutely last resort, after repeated instances of non-compliance and repeated attempts on the side of the authority to get the licensees to remedy same.”
The ministers called upon the sector to ensure compliance with the legislation and use existing support mechanisms provided by Icasa and MDDA.
“The ministers have also resolved to continue engagements with the respective portfolio entities towards finalising a support strategy which is imperative in finding a lasting solution for the sustainability of community media,” their departments said.