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ESCCOM ENGAGES ONLINE RADIO STATIONS

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MBABANE – The ESCCOM has reportedly engaged all online radio stations currently active in the country.

Following reports from our sister publication Eswatini News; the over 20 online radio stations which are yet to be licensed including Jelele, Hala, Brema and South Coast Radio, among others, have been engaged by the Eswatini Communications Commission (ESCCOM) since it is the regulatory body. Currently, the only radio stations which are licensed and permitted to operate in the country are Voice of the Church (VOC) which is wholly owned by the Christian fraternity and Eswatini Broadcasting and Information Services (EBIS) which is owned by government.

Operational

The Eswatini Broadcasting Bill was passed by the House of Assembly in October 2020 and it was tabled by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Manqoba Khumalo. However, this Bill has not been passed into law as yet and this has given birth to over 20 online radio stations which are already operational. Currently, Hala Radio station has over 21 000 listeners. Director of the radio station Larry Mhlanga disclosed that so far, his radio station was the most listened to online radio station in the country.
Mhlanga further disclosed that his radio station could be a fully-fledged enterprise contributing to the country’s economy had it not been for the lack of registration for online radio platforms. Since the country currently lacks the piece of legislation that would allow them to operate just like the major radio stations like EBIS. Jelele FM Co-founder Paul ‘Dr P’ Tarvis said although the commission had not contacted them as yet, they would be more than willing to be part of the advanced talks with the commission with regards to the legislation. He went on to say that this would include broadcasting, licensing and other media related issues. “As Jelele, we would most definitely want to have a solid conversation with ESCCOM. This includes on all fronts including broadcasting and licensing and other issues related to the digital media space in the country.

Commission

“A lot of the times people in the industry think that you are always against the regulator and opposing the commission, but a lot of the times things don’t work if that is the case, therefore, we need to sit down together and figure out a situation that makes sense for us all,” he said. He went on to say as Jelele, their position on the ground had always been of growth and having an open door policy in having a dialogue with regulators or ministries in order to elevate the digital space to greater heights.

Rollout

Currently, he said as of last year, when they started the rollout, their website had been visited by over two million people. He emphasised that what they considered a hit were people listening for over 10 minutes on their site. He went on to say that on average, they had over 15 000 to 20 000 consistent listeners who either use the TV or radio site every month which are people who watch or listen to the full programmes excluding those who only listen or watch for a limited period of time. When considering every listener or view on their website (which includes people who only listen for a few minutes), he said their numbers equated up to 40 000 listeners. On the other hand, Director of Hala FM Larry Mhlanga disclosed that the Commission had already been in contact with them to pave a way forward.  Mhlanga further relayed that as Hala FM, they were aligned and happy with the engagement since they were in the digital space.

Code

“Although this industry is not yet regulated, we will continue to meet the broadcasting code of conduct so as to comply with the laws of the journalism and media space,” he said. Consumer Affairs and Communications Manager at ESCCOM Fisiwe Vilane said online broadcasting was clearly within the remit of the Commission when asked on issues of legality and compliance with national laws pertaining to online radio stations. She highlighted that the commission was seized with powers to regulate and supervise broadcasting services regardless of the mode or technology used to provide the service. “In terms of the Eswatini Communications Commission Act, ‘broadcasting’ is defined as ‘the provision of vision, sound, multimedia and data service, principally intended for delivery of news, entertainment and education to the general public. Further, the Act defines ‘broadcasting service’ as ‘a service that delivers television programmes or radio programmes to persons having equipment appropriate for receiving that service, whether the delivery uses the radio frequency spectrum, cable, optical fibre, satellite or any other means or a combination of those means’,” she emphasised.

Legislations

Since the legislations are still being promulgated, Vilane further stated that in terms of Section 6(c) of the ESCCOM Act; one of the functions of the commission is to regulate and supervise the provision of radio and television broadcasting services and the content of those services. Vilane also said in light of the foregoing provision and while the Broadcasting Bill is being promulgated into law, the commission has a duty to supervise broadcasting services and in this regard, had been engaging the already existing online radio operators with the view of putting in place the appropriate regulatory framework to accommodate a number of activities in the broadcasting space, including online or digital platforms. “Such engagements are done with full cognisance of the fact that online and digital platforms are a new phenomenon,” she said. She also asserted that all operators within the electronic communications sector were bound by the legislative and regulatory frameworks administered and enforced by the commission and said such regulatory frameworks provided for the manner in which transgressions were to be dealt with by the Commission.

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