Concerns about the “Electronic Communication Amendment Draft Bill”

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Concerns about the “Electronic Communication Amendment Draft Bill”

MMA calls on the Department of Communication to withdraw the Electronic Communications Amendment Bill.

On the 4th of November 2011 in the Government Gazette, the Department of Communication (DOC) released the Electronic Communication Amendment Draft Bill for discussion. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) finds the bill deeply concerning. There are certain areas of the draft bill, which if enacted, would fatally undermine the independence of the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA).

The following areas of the bill are very problematic:

  • The change of the definition of Community broadcasters – the draft definition emphasises communities that are ‘geographically bound’. This would potentially see the end of community of interest broadcasters which speak to widespread communities.
  • The proposal that the Minister is given powers to allocate and manage radio spectrum – this shifts powers from ICASA and gives them to the Minister. Such a move would fundamentally undermine ICASA independence and open up radio frequency and licence allocation to direct political interference.
  • The Bill seeks to further undermine ICASA’s independence by reversing the relationship between the Minister and ICASA. Currently ICASA needed to consider the Minister’s directives, if enacted ICASA would be forced to act in accordance with these directives. A small but significant shift in power.

MMA is aware of the problems ICASA is currently facing. However this draft bill fails hopelessly to remedy any of ICASA existing challenges.  The challenges range from inadequate funding, capacity, and inability to adequately carry out a core activity of monitoring and compliance.

“An independent regulator is crucial to the proper functioning of a vibrant, diverse and competitive broadcast sector.  This Bill smacks of narrow sighted political agenda’s and we can only assume was incorrectly released to the public.” Said Carol Netshifhefhe Media Policy and Quality Researcher for MMA.

Further, this bill introduces a range of significant regulatory changes, changes which require the promised full policy review process of the broadcasting sector.  “We call on the Minister to announce her commitment to following through on a comprehensive policy review and to provide timelines for the review.” Said William Bird, Director  of MMA.

It is most unfortunate that one of the first major acts of the DOC is the release of the Draft Bill.  Certainly the New Minister and her deputy have their work cut out for them.  We take this opportunity to welcome them and offer support in helping to grow and develop South Africa’s broadcasting and telecommunications sector that is in the interests of all South African’s.

For more information contact

Carol Netshifhefhe

Policy Unit: Media Monitoring Africa

+2711 788 1278 or +2774 690 1023

Caroln@mma.org.za

William Bird

Director: Media Monitoring Africa

+2711 788 1278 or +2782 887 1370

Williamb@mma.org.za

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