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As country prepares to switch to digital broadcasting, MISA urges government to prevent "information gap"

(MISA/IFEX) - 22 January 2010 - The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia Chapter has observed that Zambia is running out of time to prepare for the mandatory migration of broadcasting services from analogue to a digital platform.

Speaking during a presentation before the parliamentary Committee on Information and Broadcasting on the subject "Digital Broadcasting Migration - How Ready is Zambia?", MISA Zambia chairperson for broadcasting Mulenga Kabiti urged the government to quickly institute a task force to manage the process effectively in order to avoid an information gap among economically disadvantaged citizens, who are in the majority.

Kabiti explained that the migration process would require citizens using the old analogue television sets to purchase a Set-Top Box (STB) for them to receive the digital signals. He called on the government to cushion the cost of acquiring the STBs through subsidizing the gadgets because the cost of such devices would be beyond the poor majority.

Kabiti, who was flanked by MISA Zambia Programme Officer for Radio and Good Governance Chanda Mfula, said that broadcasters would equally be financially affected through costs of equipment, infrastructure and training, as well as marketing so as to encourage high consumer uptake of digital broadcasting.

The broadcasting chairperson expressed worry that there was little on the ground to show that that government was taking adequate steps to address the issue and urged it to immediately appoint an all-inclusive Task Force on digital migration and commit sufficient resources to the process. Kabiti said MISA Zambia had commenced its awareness-raising campaign on digital migration, which included lobbying meetings with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services and dissemination of information on the process to stakeholders and the organisation's members.

Kabiti told the committee that the advantages to digital migration were many. He said the current scarcity of frequencies on the spectrum would be addressed as digital broadcasting takes up far less space than analogue. This would create room for establishing more broadcasting channels as well as other services such as telephony and wireless broadband, which is not traditionally provided on the broadcasting spectrum in analogue. He added that digital broadcasting would also provide clearer and better quality pictures and sound. He said, once effectively implemented, digital broadcasting would also help address the digital divide because it would increase people's access to information and give them a wider choice.

Speaking at the same event, Mfula said that, though digital broadcasting held far more potential for realizing the dream of universal access to information and knowledge, failure to mitigate the costs of migration for ordinary citizens could marginalize them and further worsen their lack of access to sufficient information.

Kabiti thanked the parliamentary Committee on Information and Broadcasting, which also encouraged the media body to go out to the public and sensitize them regarding digital migration and to lobby government on the need to provide incentives such as tax waivers on STBs and digital-compliant television sets to make them more affordable for citizens.

Kabiti also called on the government to put in place a national policy on digital migration that would promote universal access to information, especially for the marginalized communities in rural areas. The policy should also ensure that the interests of the broadcasting sector are taken into account in order to assure the sector's growth and sustainability.

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