Department of Communications on Revised Strategic Plan (Medium Term) & 2016 Annual Performance Plan

NCOP Public Enterprises and Communication

13 April 2016
Chairperson: Ms E Prins (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Strategic & Annual PerformanceReports:
Department of Communications Annual Performance Plan 2016/17
Department of Communications Strategic Plan 2015/16 - 2019/20

The Department of Communications (DOC) presented its Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan for 2016 to the Committee. The work of the Department was being undertaken in a rapidly changing environment, where the market  communications and media content was increasingly competitive. In the print media, transformation had not been realised, although the Media Development and Advertising Agency (MDDA) had done good work in setting up Community Print Media. In the broadcasting segment, the challenge was the access to premium content, and advertising preferences. Mobile technology had disrupted the manner in which people received their content, as it was difficult to regulate and was posing a challenge to policy makers. The DOC's main strategic goals related to improving its internal work, producing policy, making efforts towards nation building and furthering the efforts to transform the sector. The Broadcasting Policy was under review and a draft Green Paper was ready for consultation with the provinces after it had been gazetted. This spoke to the regulation of content and the management of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Amendment Bill, a largely technical amendment, which related to the operations of the entity, would be going straight through to Parliament. Community broadcasting received support through subsidies for signal distribution, infrastructure development, management/ financial training and content production. There would be a review and reassessment of the MDDA since its mandate had not changed since 2012. Provincial hubs would be created to devolve communications services to rural areas. The move to digital terrestrial television was ongoing, with the analogue signal due for switch-off in 2018/19. International engagement had led to changes in  frequency spectrum and digital migration. Speaking to the budget, the presenter said that over 94% of the budget went to the entities, and the work to be done in the forthcoming year in the provinces was outlined. The Department faced a challenge of underfunding and short-staffing, but tried to avoid hiring consultants, using in-sourced capacity instead.

Members asked about the shareholder compact, how the Department would ensure that radio stations were broadcasting in local languages and how advertising payments were made to community media. Some Members were disappointed to see the lack of goals to actually address the non-transformation in the print media. They asked where the local radio stations were being set up. They wanted a list of the unfunded vacancies and asked how the understaffing affected service delivery. The criteria and locations of the five new community stations were requested, as also the numbers of DTT boxes distributed so far. Members asked who paid the salaries of the community radio stations. They asked how the elections would affect the Department.

 

Meeting report

Department of Communications Revised Strategic Plan (Medium Term) & 2016 Annual Performance Plan briefing
Mr Norman Munzhelele, Acting Director General, Department of Communications, presented both documents – the revised Strategic Plan and the Annual Performance Plan (APP) to the Committee.

He was proud to speak of the capacity building which had taken place in the Department of Communications (DOC or the Department) in the course the year since its inception. He began by giving the Committee an outline of the context in which the work at the Department was being undertaken. He noted that the market for communications and media content was increasingly competitive. In the print media, transformation had not been realised, as the major players in the field were the same as in 1994. However, the appreciated the work undertaken by the Media Development and Advertising Agency (MDDA) in setting up Community Print Media.

With regard to the broadcasting segment, he noted that the challenge was the access to premium content, and advertising preferences. On the matter of the digital revolution, he mentioned that mobile technology had disrupted the manner in which people received their content, as it was difficult to regulate and was posing a challenge to policy makers.

Turning to the Strategic Plan goals, Mr Munzhelele noted that the main goals were: to improve its internal work, to produce policy, improved country building and a transformed communications sector. On internal matters, Mr Munzhelele informed the Committee that it was a requirement that the Department pay for services within 30 days.

In relation to broadcasting he noted that the Broadcasting Policy was under review and that a draft Green Paper was ready for consultation with the provinces after it had been gazetted. This spoke to the regulation of content and the management of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Amendment Bill, a largely technical amendment, which related to the operations of the entity, would be going straight through to Parliament.

In the area of Community Broadcasting Support, there was a  strategy that provided support in four areas, namely: : subsidies for signal distribution, infrastructure development, management/ financial training and content production.

There was an ongoing reassessment of the mandate of the MDDA, as it had been in operation since 2002 with a particular set of objectives. It was felt that these needed to be reassessed, to ensure that it was still relevant.

There was an advisory board, and provincial Content Hubs would be created, which would devolve communications services to rural areas. In the digital television arena, he mentioned the Department intended to switch off the analogue signal in 2018/19, by way of a phased out approach, mentioning that operations had been started in the Northern Cape.

In relation to stakeholder engagement and the work done internationally, he informed the Committee that the changes in broadcasting such as frequency spectrum and digital migration were as a result of international engagement. He encouraged the Committee to take a special interest in this particular function.

He mentioned that over 94% of the Department’s budget went to the entities, to ensure capacity for the fulfilment of the Department’s mandate. He then described the work to be undertaken in the provinces in the coming year. Five community radio stations would be provided with broadcasting infrastructure.

He informed the Committee that the Department was understaffed and underfunded in that it had only 86 funded staff posts in a staff establishment of 384. In order to assist with capacity, short term contract employment was often utilised. However, he mentioned that consultants were not hired and that the Department would in-sources when the need arises.

Ms Dikeledi Thindisa, Chief Financial Officer, Department of Communications, shed light on the budget, also stressing the fact that the Department was not sufficiently financed. She mentioned that most of the budget was dedicated to transfers of the Department’s entities, and tabled a breakdown (see attached presentation for full details).

Discussion
Ms E Prins (ANC, Eastern Cape) mentioned she was concerned about the Department’s constrained budget, She wanted more detail on the shareholder compact. She asked how the Department ensured that radio stations played adequate content in local languages.

Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) commended the Department for not employing consultants, as they came at a great financial cost. He requested clarity on the matters of the temporary regulatory regime and advertising payments to community media.

Mr J Parkies (ANC , Free State) commented that the Department had no strategic goals to address the lack of transformation in print media. He enquired as to whether the local radio stations that were being set up were to be in local municipalities or district municipalities. He requested a detailed list of crucial vacant positions in the Department. He also wanted to know how understaffing was affecting service delivery.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) wanted to know the criteria for setting up, and the locations of the five community radio stations, and requested the number of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) boxes which had been distributed to aid with the migration to the digital waves, as well as the budget allocated for that exercise.

Mr O Sefako (ANC, North West) wanted to know how the upcoming elections would affect the functions of the Department. He also enquired if the Department also paid the salaries of the personnel who ran the community radio stations.

Mr Munzhelele informed the Committee that the regulatory regime was temporary, and this was due to the intricacies and wide penetration of mobile technology. He mentioned that once a solution that best served the country was agreed upon, it would be implemented. In relation to the questions on  transformation, he mentioned that many task teams such as the Media Revolution Tribunal had been mandated to come up with solutions to alleviate the situation. However, their reports were always shelved. The main challenge with enforcing government objectives was that the status quo suited the agenda of the major media houses.

He directed the Committee to the Government Communication and Information System, who would have a better breakdown of the monies spent and the logistics related to community media. On the matter of the location of stations, the policy had been that there would be one community radio station per district municipality.

He noted that the Department would communicate the number of DTT boxes which had been issued to members of the public to the committee at a later time, but he was able to provide the budget for this, which was R2.45 billion. He informed the Committee that the salaries of those working in the community radio stations did not come from the Department, they were instead financed by the profits made from activities such as advertising.

Ms Thindisa mentioned that the biggest challenge was the size of the budget in comparison to the mandate of the Department. She requested that Members could give their support to increasing the budget in the forthcoming budget adjustment process, as this might secure better financing for the Department. She mentioned that with the current staffing needs, it would take approximately six years for the Department to successfully fulfil its mandate.

Other business: Minute adoption
Members adopted the minutes of the last meeting without amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.

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