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Community broadcasters owe Sentech over R30m

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Community radio stations owe Sentech millions in outstanding fees. Photo source: GCIS
Community radio stations owe Sentech millions in outstanding fees. Photo source: GCIS

A total of 108 community radio stations are in arrears and collectively owe Sentech more than R30 million in outstanding fees, the government signal provider told ITWeb.

Sentech, which says it has initiated a phased switch-off process, confirmed it has reached a payment agreement with four of the 17 community broadcasters it initially pulled off air.

The money owed to Sentech is for signal distribution services provided by the government signal provider as well as a range of products and services utilised by the broadcasters. As long as the money remains outstanding, it has the potential to negatively affect Sentech's legal and administrative functioning.

"For the past three years, we have been communicating with some of the broadcasters and sending out statements notifying them they owe Sentech. They came after we have done the switch-off. We suspended services first last week, so we had a phased approach," says spokesperson Milisa Kentane.

Kentane adds Sentech continues to engage with stakeholders and is looking at all available options for payment arrangements.

Sentech is the state-owned enterprise established to provide common carrier broadcasting signal distribution services to licensed broadcasters in SA. The company derives its revenue from terrestrial television services, terrestrial radio services, satellite linking, facility rental sales and direct-to-home satellite services.

The decision to cut community broadcasters' signal shouldn't come as a surprise, as Sentech promised to focus on achieving business sustainability over the medium-term.

In government's Estimates of National Expenditure, the document handed out to coincide with the 2018 National Budget, the company said it is working on identifying growth areas to substitute revenue losses from the costs of maintaining the dual illumination system.

Sentech's total budget for the 2018/2019 financial year is R1.3 billion.

Meanwhile, communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane plans to meet with Sentech, the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) to resolve the current impasse on Friday, 20 April.

The NCRF is a national, membership-driven association of community radio stations and support service organisations, while the MDDA's mandate is to develop the community media sector in SA.

According to Mokonyane, the community media sector is critical in the promotion of access to information, especially for rural and semi-urban communities.

"As government, it is our intention to prevent any further cuts in transmission by Sentech while ensuring we immediately find a lasting solution to the debt-burden of community broadcasters.

"The meeting we have scheduled must assist us in finding short-term solutions to prevent any disruptions in transmissions, and enable us to develop a long-term and sustainable fiscal framework for community media that will promote the growth of the sector and enhance its ability to raise revenue and improve governance in the sector."

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