Sports Events of National Interest: Discussion with ICASA

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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


27 June 2001

Acting Chairperson: Mr Chauke (ANC)

The Committee discussed the role of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa in broadcasting sporting events of national interest. ICASA had difficulty, largely due to budget constraints and "prioritization" questions, in focusing on this issue as a matter of urgency.

The consensus remained that the Committee must, with the continued participation of the Sports Minister and the Communications Portfolio Committee, as well as ICASA, continue to pro-actively facilitate MNet, the SABC, and ETv reaching an accord to widen the broadcast of these events to the public.

The Chair, Mr Chauke (ANC), opened the meeting by noting that Committee Chairperson Ms Bhengu could not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

He welcomed the ICASA Chairman, Mr Mandla Langa, and ICASA Councillor, Ms Libby Lloyd. They would discuss the way forward regarding the broadcast of sporting events of national interest, particularly in making these available to the masses in rural areas.

Mr Chauke stated that the broadcasters have not made enough progress during the past five years in promoting sporting events of national interest. Minister Balfour has therefore tasked the Committee and the Sports Ministry, including Mr Graham Abrahams, to expedite this matter.

In recent discussions the broadcasters have indicated that while they are "ready to proceed, ICASA is not", and that this meeting is an opportunity for ICASA to explain where the "blockages" are so that the Committee, in conjunction with other role players, can plot the way forward.

ICASA Presentation
Mr Langa stated that ICASA also wants to find solutions. It has met with both Minister Balfour and the Communications Minister concerning its legal position pursuant to the Broadcasting Act of 1999, which ICASA and the Ministries must conform with in addressing this issue. However, the limited resources allocated to ICASA are a major constraint, especially when other matters such as regulating "local content" of programming, are also a focus of ICASA's activities. Nonetheless, ICASA is committed to addressing this issue concerning broadcast of sports events of national interest once it is "prioritized", and the required resources are provided.

Mr Swart (NNP) observed that he had believed that the process, which ICASA must lead, had moved further than where Langa described it. He asked for a synopsis of the constraints on ICASA, and an indication of what is to happen at the July 14 meeting of the role players on this matter.

Mr Frolick (UDM) asked what ICASA's other priorities are, and Mr Schoeman (NNP) inquired as to what ICSA's plan is, and what solution is envisioned.

Mr Langa stated that ICASA is currently addressing issues concerning local content in programming, telecommuncations reform, and the next restructuring of the SABC, all of which require capital. ICASA was only formed last July and the process of merging the operations systems of its predecessors, SATRA and the IBA, has not yet been completed. The budget allocation process for ICASA has also not been completely smooth.

Councillor Lloyd added that because of the timing of passage of the Broadcasting Act in 1999, and the budgeting process, an allocation for sports projects was only first made by ICASA for the 2001 fiscal year. ICASA must hold hearings and solicit public input before it can promulgate regulations on sports broadcasting, and must also obtain legal advice, including overseas advisors experienced in how these issues have been dealt with elsewhere, all of which is costly. Questions concerning sports programming have also arisen in the context of the local content issue, and that proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act concerning licencing regulations may affect sports broadcasting.

Mr Lee stated that it is clear that process of ICASA addressing the issue of concern to the Committee will be lengthy, and largely dependent on the Communications Minister's allocation of funds. Could the urgency of the situation be stressed to her, and has she met with Minister Balfour on the issue?

Mr Abrahams replied that the Ministers had met and "informally" discussed the issue. While ICASA has been assisting in the process, it is still waiting for funding, which he suggested a "formal" inter-Ministerial agreement might facilitate.

The Chair asked Mr Abrahams to elaborate on the content of the "informal" discussions, which he declined to do, though he noted that he would pass on any Committee questions or suggestions to Minister Balfour.

After mentioning ETv's apparent reticence to participate in the process, Mr Pieterse (ANC) stated that ICASA's attitude was heartening. However, the cost of the recent Cell C litigation must have impacted on its budget, and the broadcasters' practice of poaching ICASA staff surely must have depleted the store of expertise. He asked what could be done in the interim, prior to commencement of ICASA's formal procedures, to widen viewing of sports of national interest.

The Chair concurred with Pieterse's view, and suggested that proposals be made concerning such interim efforts, which must continue to focus attention on stimulating the broadcasters' cooperation in the process.

Mr Moonsamy (ANC) commented that the process of solving this problem could not be allowed to continue to drag on, and that the Ministers must meet and persuade the Treasury to allocate the necessary funds to ICASA.

Mr Langa agreed that formal ministerial consultation is necessary, and also suggested that ICASA immediately establish a "programme team", working with designated Sport Ministry officials, to prepare an interim report to the Portfolio Committee setting time frames for the project, and identifying cost and legal issues affecting ICASA's actions.

Mr Abrahams stated that in addition to laying the groundwork for the formal ICASA proceedings, the project team should also focus on effecting an interim agreement with the broadcasters. ICASA should participate in the existing structures established for interaction among the broadcasters, the Committees, and the Ministries, and in the July 14 meeting of these role players.

Mr Swart (NNP) expressed his disappointment that ICASA's legal and other constraints have retarded progress. There should be a "dual process" with ICASA formal proceedings on one track, and continuation of discussions with the broadcasters on another. The Committee will have to continue to drive the latter toward reaching an interim agreement whereby the broadcasters will move to widen accessibility to sporting events of national interest. To that end, he agreed that ICASA should attend the July 14 meeting, and suggested that after that meeting proposals for both the interim and longer terms can be formulated.

The Chair added that the Committee and its communications counterpart must assist ICASA in its work, and ensure that funds are available for it to provide appropriate final regulations on this issue. In the shorter term ICASA could promulgate interim regulations after the July 14 meeting.

Mr Abrahams said that the July 14 date had arisen in the context of the broadcasters having agreed to meet prior to July 15 in order to devise proposals to be submitted to the respective Committees prior to July 31. He confirmed that the Sports Ministry was continuing to monitor their efforts.

Mr Pieterse (ANC) observed that the Communications Minister ultimately empowers ICASA, and that the Committee and Balfour can only make inputs. He commented that ICASA ultimately has responsibility for any agreements, even interim ones, with and among the broadcasters.

Mr Lee (DP) noted that while, notwithstanding the participation of other role players, ICASA's independence cannot be compromised, the Committee must be kept regularly updated on further developments on this issue.

Councillor Lloyd observed that as the process unfolds, the roles of the rights holders being the sporting federations, must be recognised. The importance of radio broadcasting rights and issues should not be forgotten.

In conclusion, Mr Langa noted that although there are many legal minefields to be dealt with in this lengthy process, this meeting had allowed for a productive exchange of information.

The Chair agreed, and noted that this issue will certainly be revisited at the Committee's next meeting, in September.

The meeting was adjourned.


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