Soweto TV's studio in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West. Picture: SOWETAN
Soweto TV's studio in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West. Picture: SOWETAN

DEPUTY Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has threatened to withdraw licences from community television stations that have adopted a commercial model, saying this is against the conditions on which their licences were issued.

Provision was made for community television by legislation in 1993. The first community TV station to get a one-year licence was Soweto TV in 2007, followed by Cape Town TV in 2008.

Community TV stations must, by law, serve a particular community, be run by a nonprofit organisation and involve members of that community in the selection and production of their programming.

Addressing a stakeholders’ workshop, Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams said community TV was taking off, but faced stiff competition from established channels.

As a result, it needed an attractive model based on financially sound business principles linked to government programmes over economic development and job creation.

"We expect applicants to adhere to the regulations of community broadcasting. It is somewhat bothering that we give licences and people will appoint companies with commercial interests. We are going to take back those licences and name and shame those involved," Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

She reiterated that community TV had immense potential to revolutionise the content industry, create jobs and promote developments in the provinces.

"These are tangible developments that ordinary people would like to see if the 20-year sector review is to bring meaning to them (communities)," she said.

Lumko Mtimde, the CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, concurred with the deputy minister on the role of community television in South Africa.

"Community broadcasting empowers communities to tell their own story, own and control the communication medium, and to participate in democracy. Creativity, innovation, is essential in content development aimed at telling your story, thereby enhancing democracy, creating jobs, promoting local content," he said.

Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams also took a swipe at the industry regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) for what she termed reluctance to deal with those violating their licences.

"Icasa, your teeth are too blunt, it is time you sharpen them. If not, we are going to deal with you," she said.

However, Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams also extended a hand to the private sector to work with the broadcasters. "Government alone cannot achieve the aspiration of building a sustainable community broadcasting model.

"We are also inviting the private sector investors to work with government in moving this mountain to the next level."

She said community TV should be better regulated than community radio stations.

"This investment should be protected and safeguarded by a strong governance model instead of the fluid one, prevalent in the community radio environment currently," she warned.

Ms Ndabeni-Abrahams said all major forms of mass communication had to be within reach for the majority, which was why community television was critical.