Film and Publication Board & ICASA on their Annual Performance Plans

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Communications

03 May 2017
Chairperson: Mr H Maxegwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Films and Publications Board (FPB), and Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) presented their 2017/18 Annual Performance Plan reports. FPB expressed concern on the increase in the number of online sexual abuse content. A robust online content policy had to be put in place and FPB appealed for the Committee’s support in expediting the passing of the FPB Bill. Also, the need to conduct content analysis to ensure successful prosecution of child pornography cases in conjunction with the South African Police Service and National Prosecution Authority was emphasized.

The proliferation of content to various platforms, limited funding options, inadequate empirical data, and increased emphasis on governance and compliance stood out as the main challenges confronting FPB.

The FPB highlighted Committee focus areas which included the finalisation of the Amendment Bill, classification guidelines review in line with South Africa’s media values and norms, single and uniform content classification standards as relating to broadcasters variations, media convergence including digital migration and integration of content regulations systems within SADC, online content regulation policy as well as a revised tariff structure for industry.

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, in its presentation, pointed out that the cancellation of set-top-box manufacturers’ contracts by Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) could mean missed deadlines in as far as digital migration was concerned. It explained that the provision of the set-top-box was in essence problematic as it meant the continued usage of analogue signal, when the world had gone digital. South Africa could be left behind in terms of technological progress.

ICASA emphasized the need for affordable broadband facilitation, as the current cost of broadband was prohibitive, and the need to look at data pricing, peering facilities and spectrum availability.

The Deputy Minister expressed concern about delays in the tabling of the Films and Publications Board Bill, saying it impacted negatively on the workings of the FPB. The Chairperson indicated that the Bill was with the Committee and there would be further Committee deliberations, with the Department clarifying certain elements. He said the process was on course and final deliberations on the Bill were expected to be done by the end of May 2017.

Members felt the Committee had to be concerned that top FPB leadership was being suspended and consequently resigning, and asked that issues around suspensions be articulated in a comprehensive report to be tabled before the Committee. The FPB would table a full report before the Committee after all the proceedings relating to suspensions and subsequent due processes were finalized. The Board assured the Committee that the various processes would not distract it from carrying out its mandate effectively.

Members agreed that Films and Publications Board Bill deliberations take place on 23 May 2017.

The Committee, having considered the request from the Minister of Communications, recommended the approval of Ms Palesa Kadi and Adv Dimakatso Qhosha to fill the two vacancies in ICASA.

Meeting report

The Chairperson, in his opening remarks welcomed the Deputy Minister, Ms Tandi Mahambehlala and her entourage, and the delegations from Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and Films and Publications Board (FPB).

Films and Publications Board strategy and Annual Performance Plan presentation

Ms Thoko Mpumlwana, Chairperson, FPB, in her opening remarks, expressed concern on the increase in the number of online sexual abuse content. She said a robust online content policy had to be put in place and appealed for the Committee’s support in expediting the passing of the FPB Bill.

Ms Palesa Kadi, Shared Services Executive, FPB, took the Committee through a presentation on the Board’s strategic priorities for the next five years. She identified technology driven content classification, consumer education through the empowerment of adults and protection of children, legislative review towards technology neutral regimes and international partnerships to ensure better regulation of the web as the main strategic priorities in the medium term.

She pointed out challenges FPB was grappling with. Proliferation of content to various platforms, limited funding options, inadequate empirical data, and increased emphasis on governance and compliance- skills gap- stood out as the main challenges. Ms Kadi then highlighted organisational initiatives currently underway. The Board’s Child Protection Week (May 2017) focus would be in the Eastern Cape following the Sesethu video outrage. Also, the UNISA Classification Certification Course was work in progress.

She emphasized the need to conduct content analysis to ensure successful prosecution of child pornography cases in conjunction with the South African Police Service and National Prosecution Authority. New initiatives were added to the initial strategic objectives of 2017/18. These included a review of tariff and fees structure for registration, classification, and penalties for non-compliance with the Films and Publications Act. Further, FPB planned to have quarterly engagements with industry on implementation of FPB regulations, carry out digital literacy campaigns and community outreach and to change the approach of awareness campaigns for higher visibility and greater impact (multi-unit approach).

Ms Kadi identified Committee focus areas with implications on FPB strategic objectives. Areas which were highlighted included:

  • the finalisation of the Amendment Bill
  • classification guidelines review in line with South Africa’s media values and norms
  • single and uniform content classification standards as relating to broadcasters variations
  • media convergence including digital migration and integration of content regulations systems within SADC
  • online content regulation policy and
  • revised tariff structure for industry

FPB expenditure budget for 2017/18 was R99.5 million, with 71% of the budget going towards effective and efficient management of FPB operations.

Discussion

Ms N Tolashe (ANC) appreciated the FPB presentation and commended the fact that it addressed concerns raised in previous engagements. She asked the Committee Chairperson to explain the extent to which the FPB Bill process went. She was worried that politicians did not sometimes take responsibility on matters in their control.

Mr M Gungubele (ANC) emphasized the importance of clarity. He noted that the FPB vision had improved as it articulated situations that must be realized. He also commended the results-based language in the presentation. However, he asked FPB to improve the articulation of its targets and strategic objectives.

Ms P Van Damme (DA) said the FPB Amendment Bill was tabled before Parliament but there were a lot of issues that had to be dealt with. It was badly drafted, unconstitutional, and ultra vires. She said the Bill process should not be rushed, and should be sent back to the drawing board. It was in the hands of the Committee to deal with the issues. She said the Committee had to be concerned that top FPB leadership was being suspended and consequently resigning.  As it stood, FPB had no Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer. She asked FPB to give a satisfactory explanation on the suspensions.

Ms V Van Dyk (DA) commented on FPBs employment equity framework. She noted that only 4.2% of coloureds were accommodated, and asked why only one person living with a disability was in its employ. She felt FPB had to work on its employment equity structure. She asked how FPB ensured the public was aware of the work that it carried out.

Ms Van Dyk asked if the FPB CEO and COO were formally charged, and whether positions of resigned personnel was advertised. She asked if Ms Palesa Kadi was part of the ongoing disciplinary hearing process, and whether that prompted her resignation.

In response to Mr Gungubele, Ms Mpumlwana replied that FPB was using a results-based methodology.

Ms Mpumlwana said FPB would table a full report before the Committee after all the proceedings relating to suspensions and subsequent due processes were finalized. She assured the Committee that the various processes would not distract FPB from carrying out its mandate effectively.

The Deputy Minister agreed that the Committee had to appraise stakeholders about the FPB Bill. She expressed concern about delays in the tabling of the Bill, as it impacted negatively on the workings of the FPB. She asked the Committee to give FPB time to submit a comprehensive report dealing with issues on suspensions after the finalization of matters. She asked that Ms Kadi’s case not be treated in isolation but be part of the aforesaid report.

The Chairperson agreed with the Deputy Minister that issues around suspensions be articulated in a comprehensive report. On the Bill, he said the Bill was with the Committee and there would be further Committee deliberations, with the Department clarifying certain elements. He said the process was on course and final deliberations on the Bill were expected to be done by the end of May 2017.

Ms Tolashe pointed out that FPB had to structure and cement its relationship with the Department of Social Development as it had the structures to deal with issues around the vulnerability of children.

Ms Kadi said FPB was looking into a targeted recruitment strategy to ensure that employment equity objectives were met. 

The Chairperson remarked that FPB was well on track and doing well, but had to improve on areas indicated by Members.

ICASA presentation

Mr Pakamile Pongwana, CEO, ICASA, took the Committee through a presentation on ICASA strategy and performance plans for 2017/18. He outlined ICASA’s main short-term strategic objectives which included increasing access to broadband spectrum from the current 566MHz to 958 MHz, to develop regulatory frameworks for dynamic and opportunistic spectrum use, as well as to monitor licensee compliance with license terms and conditions and applicable legislation and regulations. He remarked that the cancellation of set-top-box manufacturers’ contracts by Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA) could mean missed deadlines in as far as digital migration was concerned. He explained that the provision of the set-top-box was in essence problematic as it meant the continued usage of analogue signals, when the world had gone digital. He said South Africa could be left behind in terms of technological progress.

Mr Pongwana pointed out the need for affordable broadband facilitation, as the current cost of broadband was prohibitive, and the need to look at data pricing, peering facilities and spectrum availability. He added that there were challenges in the courier environment as most of the South African Post Office (SAPO) services were being cannibalized, and SAPO was currently operating inefficiently.

Mr Willington Ngwepe, COO, ICASA, said its main targets for 2017/18 included annual membership to six international fora, opening of a new North West regional office and completing 50% of licensing processes for broadband (IMT) spectrum as per decision of the Council on the first phase of International Mobile Telecommunications Licensing Process.

Mr Tebogo Matabane, CFO, ICASA, said revised estimates of total expenses for 2017/18 was R414.5 million. The compensation of employees’ expenditure was expected to be the main driver of the expenditure budget, accounting for an estimated 60% of the total budget. Expenditure on compensation of employees was set to increase from R257.3 million in 2017/18 to R287.7 million in 2019/20. Key administrative projects were Head Office relocation and tenant installation and automation (IT infrastructure and Furniture), the establishment of North West regional office as well as procurement of vehicles for new regional offices.

Discussion

Ms Van Dyk (DA) asked if ICASA had solutions for addressing outdated, inefficient and manual operating systems, as a weakness identified in its strategy overview. She asked about the role being played by ICASA in enabling growth of community radios.

Ms P Van Damme (DA) asked about municipalities blocking the installation of base stations and some such projects. She expressed concern on the setting of low targets. She noted ICASA’s target of resolving 65% of cases received and investigated for adjudication by the CCC, and payment of suppliers within 30 days, 95% of the time. She felt targets had to be 100%. She asked for an update on the matter around auctioning of spectrum that was before the courts.

The Chairperson asked for clarity on why ICASA felt set-top-boxes would take the country back in terms of technologies.

Mr Gungubele said the visions of ICASA were well-articulated. He added that ICASA had to well articulate its targets and goals as it was being paid tangible money thus the Committee was expecting tangible outcomes.

On municipalities blocking the installation of base stations, Mr Pongwana said the situation was worse than that. During impact assessments, communities would block project applications and then municipalities went on to approve the communities’ reservations, no matter how trivial. Communities and municipalities were not cooperating around the matter. He pointed out that even the digging of trenches for the installation of optic fibres within communities was totally uncoordinated.

On various litigations, Mr Ngwepe said the Minister was granted an interdict which compelled ICASA to stop the process, pending hearing of the merits of the matter; the matter was dragging on for longer than it ought to. He indicated efforts towards the facilitation of an out-of-court settlement by the parties.On ICASA targets, he said the challenge with CCC matters were that, being legal matters by their very nature, targets were cognisant of the inherent complexities involved and were based on previous experiences. He agreed that targets had to be met.

On paying suppliers on time, Mr Matabane said ICASA was being realistic when setting its targets. Targets were informed by previous year experiences. 

Ms Matshoba (ANC) asked why a regional office was only mooted for North West province, not other provinces.

Ms N Tolashe (ANC) commended ICASA for having fewer vacant posts unlike other entities under the Department. She remarked that there were tensions within the Department and its entities, ICASA included, that needed to be addressed through political processes as a matter of urgency. She asked the Department to shed more light on the matters.

On municipalities blocking ICASA initiatives, Ms Tolashe pointed out the need to strengthen the relationship between inter-governmental entities as a means of fostering progress. She was not convinced that communities were anti-development, there could be other nefarious agendas at play.

Mr M Kalako (ANC) asked about the origin of the white paper, which ICASA perceived to be taking the country back in as far as ICT was concerned. He asked how the various challenges such as USAASA contract cancellations and battles among stakeholders within the media space affected digital migration, in the final analysis. He asked about the economic implications of not meeting digital migration targets.

The Deputy Minister replied that the integrated ICT white paper was from the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services and proposed regulations that would affect ICASA. Regulations could strip ICASA of some of its responsibilities. She emphasized the need for collaboration and collective effort from various stakeholders.

She remarked that points raised by Ms Tolashe around cooperation, unity and cohesion among entities that reported to the Department, were crucial and pertinent. She agreed there were challenges that had to be resolved. She assured the Committee that the Ministry would intervene to address the issues.

Ms Botlenyana Mokhele, Councillor, ICASA said community broadcasting as a licensing category did exist in a policy document, the broadcasting white paper of 1999, and ICASA was currently reviewing community broadcasting regulations.

Mr Pongwana explained that the decision to roll out set-top-boxes was made in 2002. At that time, the whole world had not moved an inch in the direction of adopting Digital Terrestrial Transmission (DTT). At that time, the fast proliferation of DTT was not anticipated. Presently, since 2014, progress in TV digitalisation had accelerated. In essence, rolling out set-top-boxes implied that it was reasonable for people to keep analogue TV sets instead of digitalising, as set-top-boxes were for converting digital signals back to analogue. He said set-top-boxes were transitory in nature. He pointed out that the continuous use of analogue TVs would encourage dumping of analogue TV sets into South Africa from other parts of the world. He emphasized that the Department could not direct any switch-offs due to the USAASA and set-top-box manufacturers’ debacle. A huge number of households still used analogue TVs and a switch-off would negatively affect them.

Mr Pongwana indicated a need for a Committee session to dissect the totality and dynamics of the digital migration debate.

On Ms Van Dyk’s concerns about outdated operating systems, Mr Pongwana said ICASA was working on updating its systems and had engaged specialists’ services.

On regional offices, he indicated that ICASA already had regional offices in all provinces, save for North West and Northern Cape. ICASA intended to have regional offices in all nine provinces.

Mr Pongwana said the white paper was developed by the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services. It was initially an integrated paper for broadcasting and telecommunications. It subsequently morphed into a telecommunications and postal services, with broadcasting being left aside to become the responsibility of the Department of Communications. It was an issue that needed to be resolved because there were a number of contentious areas.  

Mr Gungubele suggested Members have a session where ICASA took them through the technical dynamics of digital migration. He said Members had a role to play in ensuring that digital migration was made possible.

Ms Tolashe asked the Deputy Minister to assist in fostering collaboration between departments involved in the drafting of the aforementioned white paper. Departments had to be sitting under one roof as they were working under one government. It was frustrating to learn that there were differences around the white paper.

Members agreed that FPB Bill deliberations take place on the 23rd of May 2017.

Further, the Committee, having considered the request from the Minister of Communications, recommended the approval of Ms Palesa Kadi and Adv Dimakatso Qhosha to fill the two vacancies in ICASA.

The meeting was adjourned.

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