From the news desk

Community radio stations taken off air

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Fifteen community radio stations in the country has been switched off by the government owned signal distribution SENTECH, due to having accumulated a huge sum of debt to the broadcasting signal and distribution and telecommunications service provider. Karabo FM is currently off air and is the worst affected radio station in the rural area. The station’s radio signal was switched off by SENTECH, who did not accept the settlement agreement proposal for their debt.

Karabo FM station manager Duncan Sinthumule, said the radio station which is in the North West and serves a majority rural community, had proposed a payment plan to SENTECH. However that plan was declined as SENTECH suggested a payment plan that was much higher than what the radio station can afford. Finding funding would not have be an option as the radio station is allocated in a remote rural area, with little accessibility to businesses.

“We continued to engage with SENTECH, we asked them to allow us to pay off our monthly fee and to have the interest and any other fee taken away. We also proposed that we can give them R10000 on top of that but they declined and said they want R120000,” he said.

The payment requirement is unrealistic for a small rural radio station like Karabo FM, which is a non-profit station. While community radio stations are expected to raise their own money through advertising, sponsorship, and fundraising, he said that is not possible for Kabaro FM.

“SENTECH then wanted the radio station to pay R116,458 immediately, and a new monthly payment of R52,153 for 18 months until we have settled our debt. We cannot even afford to pay R15,000 per month. How will we be able to stick to their payment plan?” said Sinthumule.

Karabo FM are employing youngsters from the community who are now unemployed. He said the only solution is for affected radio stations to meet with the Minister of Communications Nomvula Mokonyane to discuss their current issues that they facing.

They are demanding:

-A moratorium on suspension of services by Sentech, and the switching-on of those stations taken off air
-Debt write-off or DOC to release funds for Sentech debt
-Restructuring of Sentech pricing for community radio stations
-An annual grant to community radio stations

The head of cooperate affairs and communication spokesperson Milisa Kentane said that initially 17 community radio stations that were in arrears were switched off. From those radio stations, two reached an agreement to settle their debt with SENTECH. They were then switched on again after they started paying the debt.

“Currently there are 108 community radio stations that are in arrears by SENTECH. SENTECH sent statements and invoices, indicating the debt, on a monthly basis. In November 2017, SENTECH then sent letters of demand, indicating the intention to suspend services if debt was not serviced,” said Kentane.

A week before they cut off transmission, a notice was sent to inform the stations that they are going to have their services suspended, as the stations have not responded to the letter of demands.

“The suspension dates are indicated on the notice. None of the community broadcasters responded to the notice either, until services was suspended. After that SENTECH has received payment proposals, some agreements have been reached and we are continuing to engage with other CRBs,” she ended. VOC

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