New boss Dlodlo encrypts what Muthambi unencrypted
SIX MONTHS since becoming Minister of Communications after President Jacob Zuma’s controversial midnight March 30 Cabinet reshuffle, Ayanda Dlodlo is revealing the challenging task facing her. “It’s been crazy but I am enjoying it,” she says.
Although she has no experience in broadcasting save for a three month stint at Radio Freedom while in exile, Dlodlo said the rapidly changing communications terrain was new to her.
“It’s a completely different area of work for me,” said Dlodlo, the former Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration.
But her vision, confidently explained in a telephone interview, is clear.
“Part of my contribution to government is to provide South Africa with a muchneeded communications environment that is open to learning and making informed choices, making it easier for people to access opportunities, and showcase the African diaspora. That is what I want people to receive from government,” she said.
“South Africa as a country has a choice either to be a significant player in the global technological development or be the recipient and consumer who trails behind innovation. It might be too late to position ourselves as leaders, however there is scope to be a meaningful player.
“Not to assert ourselves in the innovation and development engine room will render us vulnerable to global economic and technological advances,” she added.
Mindful of the challenges, particularly legacy issues inherited from her predecessor Faith Muthambi, although she did not speak about her cabinet colleague, one of Dlodlo’s first steps was to reverse Muthambi’s policy moves on encryption of set-top boxes.
Dlodlo said it was ANC policy and that she was responsible for implementing policies of the ruling party.
“In this instance, all my work is to ensure that ANC policies see the light of day… when it comes to encryption, I have no authority to deviate,” she said.
The minister said policy proposals, however, would be discussed at the ANC conference in December.
Referring to the Constitutional Court outcome on June 8 which ruled that the government did not act unconstitutionally when it decided under Muthambi to implement a policy of unencrypted digital terrestrial television.
Muthambi was criticised by the court for not explaining her decision to switch from an encrypted system to an unencrypted system. But Dlodlo said the court ruling was not about whether or not to encrypt.
“The judgment spoke to the authority of cabinet and ministers to change policy decisions.
I don’t believe that the imperative to change was necessarily there and the court did not say whether encryption is good or not.
“But I have a responsibility to take rational decisions, and the position has not changed with the ANC,” she added.
Dlodo remains committed to ensure that the roll-out of set-top boxes is expedited as part of the ministry’s digital migration push, which she believes is a major game changer on several fronts. On Monday, she said the Digital Migration Council met to outline its plans.
But the country has missed the 2015 International Telecommunications Union deadline to switch its signal to digital, meaning that by using the analogue signal, people living in border areas could experience signal interruptions.
But Dlodlo said significant progress has been made in the digital migration process despite delays. Already, the analogue signal had been switched off in 88 borderline towns in seven provinces and the signal would be switched off in inland provinces by the 2019/20 financial year. Dlodlo revealed that she has been engaging with mobile operators – and broadcasters – around the enhancement of services and digital migration that is crucial for freeing up broadband spectrum to boost connectivity. “If we are looking at reducing costs, we need to ensure that there is spectrum, and this resides with broadcasters, and they are very happy to be on board,” she said. The Minister is excited about the opportunities on the horizon once digital migration is achieved, saying it brings potential for more channels on television, ensuring that the broadcasting landscape could become a money-spinner, like tourism. “I cannot see why we cannot have a 24 -hour sports channel or a University channel on the SABC but for that to happen, we need content. I cannot develop content, we need people for that.
“It’s much broader than the technology, and speaks to heritage and culture, not just in South Africa but within the SADC, and following an agreement to work with the region, we believe that we can become the driver of the digital migration economy.
“During this past year we have accelerated our work of ensuring that our people derive benefits from the communication dividend.
There is every reason to be confident in our future prospects and working together we can ensure that more South Africans derive benefits from the communication space at accessible and reasonable cost,” she said.
Asked about her stewardship of the SABC, Dlodlo said the noise has calmed down but there is “so much work to be done” with appointments of senior leadership – a chief executive, chief operating officer and chief financial officer – among her priorities.
“I want people with proven experience of turning around organisations.”
Relatively fresh in her tenure, unlike her predecessor whose critics say took South Africa backwards in the digital space, Dlodlo is making the right noise, taking South Africa forward with greater understanding of the job to be done.
In a letter to Dlodlo on May 10, Democratic Alliance MP, Marian Shinn, told the minister she has noted with “some joy your utterances, re: breathing life into the Broadcasting Digital Migration process. This essential programme to free up the airwaves to deliver digital inclusion to all South Africans, no matter how remote, must be fast tracked.
“I am broadly supportive of the programme but have been critical about those aspects of its implementation that I felt were protecting the markets of preferred incumbents in the broadcasting space, or that were being delayed because of incompetence and corruption.”
Lucien Pierce, a partner with Phukubje Pierce Masithela Attorneys, said Dlodlo’s stance on encryption was the best route to go, and provides certainty to a sector that has been wrecked by uncertainty during the Muthambi era.
“If you look at the state ICT strategy, the intention is to have lots of different services, ie E-governance and if these devices have encryption, they can be offered securely. There is great emphasis now on the ICT sector, educating people, developers, content providers, and they will benefit from the certainty Dlodlo brings. I am confident it will remain after the ANC conference, there will be confusion if we deviate,” he warned. William Bird, of
Director Media Monitoring Africa, said the encryption announcement by the minister was “pretty significant” as her predecessor was hell-bent on going against what the ANC ordered.