Sentech action gags community radio - A call to protect this valuable resource of community radio which provides media access to marginalised peoples.
More than 6 community radio stations across the country – including Hope FM, Forte FM and Karabo FM - are no longer broadcasting to their communities because their Sentech accounts are in arrears. Dozens of other stations are receiving threatening letters saying they face a "suspension of their services" if they do not pay up immediately.
" We asked to make a payment arrangement with Sentech, but the company's expectations for a payment plan were unrealistic," Duncan Sinthumule, Station Manager from Karabo FM in Free State says.
Sentech then declined the payment plan offered by the Karabo FM and wanted the station to pay R116,458.00 "immediately" with monthly payments of R52,152.90 for 18 months until the debt is settled.
" We cannot even afford to pay R15,000.00 per month, how will we be able to stick to their payment plan?" Sinthumule said.
As non-profit entities, community radio stations are expected to raise their own funds through advertising, sponsorship and fundraising.
The Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), a SOE created with the mandate to amongst others "promote media development and diversity by providing support primary to community and small commercial media projects" only receives a small budget from the Department of Communications (DOC), and cannot provide support to over 200 community radio stations in South Africa.
Radio stations have called for a meeting with Minister of Communications Ms Nomvula Mokonyane to discuss the matter, with an expected meeting in the week of April 16.
Our demands follow...
- 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
These demands are not unreasonable. As community radio stations, we operate under slow-growing economic climate that makes income via advertising very difficult.
Unlike commercial radio stations, we spend our broadcast hours promoting democracy, nationalism, social cohesion, cultural practices, local indigenous languages and local music. We educate, inform and entertain our communities we serve, and do this - in most instances - without any support from the government.
Taking community radio stations off air is an attack on media pluralism, negating the gains made in the media under the democratic government over the past 22 years. It will take us another 20 years to recover from this damage caused by Sentech.
The totals owed by three of the stations are as follows:
Forte FM: R400,000.00
Karabo FM: R557,000.00
The Rock FM: R413,000.00
This is likely to increase as more community stations face payment demands from Sentech.
For interviews or more information, contact:
The Rock FM
082 471 6253
Issued by: Brenda Leonard – Managing Director of Bush Radio on behalf of the affected community radio stations
Cell: 076 883 5879