Compliance: Crackdown on ‘pirate’ radio stations in South Africa

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has shut down a number of community-run radio stations across the country.

These radio stations were broadcasting without a valid licence, which classes them as “pirate” radio stations.

The National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) – a member-run group advocating for community radio – released a statement which criticised ICASA’s decision to shut down community radios stations.

“The Central Executive Committee (CEC) has noted that this is the second onslaught on the community radio sector, where over 40 stations have either been shut down or threatened to be shut down,” said NCRF general secretary Thabang Pusoyabone.

“The real threat to the community radio sector is that it has become easier for the state to close community media projects. That is risky for media freedom and diversity in South Africa.”

The NCRF demanded that ICASA rescind its decision to shut down these radio stations and that the government spend at least 30% of its advertising budget to support community media.

Onslaught denied

ICASA said it has noted the media statement issued by the NCRF and denied that it had any plans to shut down any validly operating community broadcasting service licensees.

“ICASA’s mandate is, among others; to ensure compliance by all licensees with all applicable laws, regulations as well as licence terms and conditions,” the regulator said.

“In executing this mandate, ICASA has identified approximately 29 community radio stations (and not 43 as purported by the NCRF) who do not possess the required broadcasting licences to operate as community radio stations.”

It is prohibited (and therefore unlawful) for any person to provide a broadcasting service without a licence, making these 29 community stations “pirate” broadcasters which did not comply with the appropriate regulations.

“ICASA will neither promote nor allow illegal broadcasting and illegal use of the radio frequency spectrum,” said ICASA CEO Willington Ngwepe.

“It is for this reason that the closing down of any community radio station or any other licensee becomes a step that is taken as an absolutely last resort, after repeated instances of non-compliance and repeated attempts on the side of the Authority to get the licensees to remedy same.”

Affected stations

The NCRF claimed that ICASA had shut down the following 43 community radio stations:

Community Radio Stations
Lekwa FM Lukhanji FM Mohokare FM
MP East Community Radio Nkungumathe FM Ncuthu Community Radio
Zibonele FM Greater Middleburg FM Merafong FM
KZN Capital FM Catitura Community Radio Mozolo FM
Lephalale FM Greater Zaneen FM Phalaborwa FM
The Rock FM Devine Touch FM Emmanuel Haven
East Griekwaland FM Franshoek Community Radio Giyani Youth FM
Hlanganani FM Kanyamaza FM Kingfisher FM
Kopel Studio Lebowakgomo FM Lekho Community Radio
Lentswe FM Lethabong Community Radio Letlhabile FM
Radio Kaap se Punt Radio Sekunda Radio Unique
Radio Renosterberg Siyathuthuka FM Sunshine Community Radio
Swartland FM Ubuhle Beshowe FM UCT Community Radio
Vaal Community Radio Endermark Community Radio Bophirima FM
Naledi Community Radio

ICASA refuted this, however, stating that only 29 radio stations were shut down due to noncompliance with the regulations. This makes it unclear which of the radio stations listed above remain active and which have been taken off the air.

In its statement, ICASA advised the NCRF to work with the regulator and assist the community broadcasting sector in complying with the law and regulations.

“Such collaboration is essential to ensure sustainability of the sector so that it can fulfil its critical mandate in society,” Ngwepe said.

To assist community radio stations in complying with the regulations, ICASA is conducting workshops across the country, with the first held on 18 October 2019 at its head office in Centurion, Gauteng.

The regulator said it believes that its workshops will aid the community broadcasting sector in finding clarity regarding the new regulatory framework.