DOC late with celebrations

Paul Vecchiatto
By Paul Vecchiatto, ITWeb Cape Town correspondent
Johannesburg, 10 Dec 2010

Political parties have heavily criticised the Department of Communications' (DOC) handling of “Africa Telecommunications Day”, saying there is no point in advertising an event after the fact.

The official anniversary of the founding of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) - the organisation meant to harmonise telecommunications policy and regulations across the continent - is on 7 December.

Many African countries mark the day, even if it is just by lip service, of what is considered to be an important political body for the telecommunications sector. The ATU is supposed to mirror its larger sibling, the International Telecommunications Union, which is one of the world's oldest international governance and co-operation organisations.

However, the Department of Communications appears to have got its timing of the celebrations wrong, with the press releases and publicity campaigns only taking off a day later, on Wednesday, 8 December, with its print and electronic advertisements appearing even later.

Deputy communications minister Obed Bapela told ITWeb yesterday that he agreed that the DOC “had not been well organised this year”. He was attending an outreach event in Plettenberg Bay.

Bapela also wants telecommunications operators involved in spreading the message about Africa Telecommunications Day and to transmit public service messages to their subscribers on a voluntary basis. He plans to ask the network operators to start offering this service, at a meeting planned in late January to discuss the future of the sector.

“In other African countries, the network operators send out these messages that help educate people on what these events mean,” he said.

However, Bapela acknowledged that the DOC itself could be doing more to spread the messages itself. Currently, the DOC, which is supposed to be the South African government's lead agency on communications, does not have any active social media platforms or accounts and relies heavily on external advertising agencies to develop and implement communications strategies.

“Within the next budgetary round we will be making provision for the use of social media and even possibly setting up a specialised unit,” he said.

Political parties on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications expressed their disappointment with how the DOC handled the event. However, they did not directly criticise either Bapela or communications minister Roy Padayachie directly, as both have only been in their positions for about a month.

“It seems someone forgot about the day and then there was a sudden rush to do things. It looks very sloppy. Africa Telecommunications Day could have been incorporated into the 16 days of Activism against violence against women and children. I hope that for next year the DOC has a better plan,” said Eric Kholwane (ANC), chairperson of the communications committee.

Natasha Michael, DA shadow minister of communications, expressed her disappointment with the handling of the day.

“There is no point in celebrating the event after the fact. It is indicative of the problems with the DOC, such as the lack of senior leadership,” she said.

Michael also said there was “no point” in sending out messages to millions of people saying “Happy Africa Telecommunications Day” without some kind of education around it.

She said she will send parliamentary questions about the cost of the advertising around the event.

Cope communications spokesperson Juli Killian said the mishandling of the day showed why SA was losing its leadership position on the continent.

“We could have marked the day in the National Assembly by looking at how we are progressing as a nation in our ICT development,” she said.

Related story:
DOC celebrates ICT