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SA broadcasters independence further threatened by new ICASA amendment bill.
12 July 2010
The South African Screen Federation (SASFED) represents South Africa’s leading independent film, television and audiovisual content industry organisations, and was constituted in March 2006.
Its current full membership includes:
• Documentary Filmmakers Association (DFA)
• Independent Producers’ Organisation (IPO)
• Personal Managers Association (PMA)
• South African Guild of Actors (SAGA)
• South African Guild of Editors (SAGE)
• The Official South African Casting Association (OSCA SA)
• Women in Film and Television, SA (WIFTSA)
• Women of the Sun (WOS)
• Writers Guild of South Africa (WGSA)
And via these organisations, it represents the collective interests of a substantial industry and several thousand people.
SASFED is the official country representative to FEPACI, the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers and is formally affiliated to SOS: The Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and, the TVIEC - Television Industry Emergency Coalition.
SASFED supports the press release issued by SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition on the 5th of July 2010 entitled:
ICASA INDEPENDENCE UNDERMINED BY NEW ICASA AMENDMENT BILL
SASFED is resolute that our industry and society as a whole requires an uncompromisingly independent, accountable and well-run broadcast set up.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) carries the vital role to ensure this.
ICASA is the regulator for the South African communications, broadcasting and postal services sector. ICASA was established by an Act of statute the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Act of 2000, as Amended.
ICASA’s mandate is spelled out in the Electronic Communications Act, for the licensing and regulation of electronic communications and broadcasting services, and by the Postal Services Act for the regulation of the postal sector.
Enabling legislation also empowers ICASA to monitor licensee compliance with license terms and conditions, develop regulations, plan and manage the radio frequency spectrum as well as protect consumers of these services and products provided.
However there have been flaws identified in the very Act that founded ICASA, which has become more apparent in the infective workings of ICASA in recent years. ICASA has effectively struggled with it’s own power, and clarity on its independence which, despite it being spelt out in the act which formed it, is now under threat more than ever.
The recent Independent Communications Authority of South Africa Amendment Bill, 2010, currently under public review and published on the 25th of June by the Minister of Communications, would seem to be an attempt by the Minister to fix the problems long ailing ICASA, including its effectiveness. SASFED is on record about its concerns regarding the monitoring and enforcement capacities of the independent regulator.
SASFED is however deeply concerned by provisions of the bill that would undermine the independence of ICASA.
The ICASA Act of 2000 states: “The Authority is Independent, and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and must be impartial and must perform its functions without fear, favour or prejudice”.
Among other things this is essential to ensuring broadcasters offer requisite local content and independent programming. A bold and effective independent regulator is necessary to offset power imbalances in the broadcast environment.
Against the background of repeated political interference in the affairs of the public broadcaster, certain provisions of the bill are ominous for this role by ICASA. Many clauses in the new bill relate to a set of proposed new powers for the Minister of Communications, effectively undermining ICASA’s independence and changing its structure so that the Council and Chair of Council effectively report to the Minister.
The Bill even removes the CEO from ICASA and replaces him / her with a COO. Previously, the CEO, as is the case with all constitutional bodies, was ICASA’s accounting officer. Now ICASA will no longer have its own accounting officer. The DG of the Department of Communications will play this role.
The Bill also states that ICASA must implement policy and policy directives issued by the Minister, that the Chairperson of Council must "perform such functions as the Minister may determine, subject to prior notification being given to Parliament" and even that the Minister will determine what roles councillors play on Council.
The evaluation of councillors will be conducted by a panel constituted by the Minister in consultation with Parliament. The panel must be chaired by the Minster or someone delegated by the Minister.
The Minister in consultation with Parliament will even nominate the Complaints and Compliance Committee members; responsible for ensuring the broadcasters comply with regulations.
It would appear ICASA would be encouraged to operate as an extension of the Department of Communications, which is totally at odds with South Africa’s Constitution and the country’s international obligations in terms of various international agreements (such as the Windhoek Charter on Broadcasting in Africa, 2001 and the African Commission on Human and People’s rights, 2002) and best practices (such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights).
SASFED supports the view that the various Acts under which the broadcast sector currently operates are fragmented, confusing and often outdated and contradictory. The only way to resolve this is to undergo a full review and public process where the Department devise a White Paper and then move to the drafting of comprehensive, coherent legislation – both in terms of the Public Service Broadcasting Bill and in terms of this new ICASA Amendment Bill.
SASFED would also like to see a simultaneous review of the Copyright Act as part of this process. SASFED is alarmed by the amount of uncoordinated new bills currently being published by various government departments directly affecting the production industry and which are being “pushed” without thorough consultation with the public or relevant role-players most affected.
SASFED is disappointed that once again the Department, despite introducing very substantive legislative amendments that shift the very nature of independent regulation and broadcasting in the country, has given stakeholders a mere 30 days to comment.
SASFED urgently requests that the Department organise a number of provincial consultation sessions with stakeholders and shift the deadline for comment to the very earliest the end of August 2010 to ensure substantive, meaningful inputs.
SASFED also supports SOS’s call that the Department of Communications releases its research behind the Public Service Broadcasting Bill that also motivated this Bill.
Issued by SASFED Executive 12 July 2010
Media Contact: Marc Schwinges – 011-483-8801