ICASA: President Zuma has stopped thinking – it’s the new all-in-one DoC

July 30th, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers

 

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) now has a home in the new Department of Communications (DoC). This was confirmed in a proclamation published in the Government Gazette  on 15 July 2014.

The communications industry can still not get its head around the thinking of the President Jacob Zuma and his cabinet regarding in which ministry ICASA  should reside. President Zuma  has now stopped thinking  about it and is sticking with the original decision  he made when he announced his  new cabinet after the recent general elections.  ICASA will reside under the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi.

The new DoC will take under its wing ICASA, the SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Government Communications and Information System, Brand SA, and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). Many have disparagingly dubbed the new DoC the “Department of Propaganda”.  However, Minister Muthambi says “there is no such thing”.

It is difficult to understand why ICASA is not under the Department of  Telecommunications or indeed truly independent.   There is a school of thought in the industry that ICASA should stand on its own feet with its own budget, perhaps as a Chapter 9 institution. But moving ICASA under Minister Faith Muthambi is perhaps a calculated decision to keep the SABC and ICASA in the same family so that the government and the ruling party and keep a closer involvement  on the public broadcaster.

It is often argued that Ministers are only figureheads and as long as they are good managers it is not important to have an intimate knowledge of the areas managed.  History has shown that this way of thinking is flawed. During the past few years South Africa has had a number of ministers of communication; one after the other stifled development in the sector. It was only when Yunus Carrim took over the DoC (now Department of Telecommunication and Postal Services) that communications started moving. He made more decision in his short tenure then the others in the previous decade.

The new Minster has much to prove if she wants to gain the confidence and support of the industry. It did not start well when she said shortly after her appointment “I don’t really know what my job is but expect the president to tell me soon”.   In her favour is the perception that she is able to take decisions, as shown with the recent SABC appointment, but can she make the right decisions?

Meanwhile it is now clear  that South Africa will not meet the digital migration deadline. In a media statement, the consulting firm, Ovum said that South Africa has missed a number of self-imposed deadlines to introduce digital broadcasting. A  year  of the process  was lost after government vacillated over which standard to use for digital TV. More recently, a high-stakes battle between Multichoice and e.tv over whether free-to-air digital set-top boxes should use a control system based on encryption has led to further significant delays. The minister will have to pull out some serious hat tricks if she is to meet the International Telecommunications Union  deadline of mid-2015.

The Minster has a big task ahead of her. Maybe she will surprise us.

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