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Malawi switches to digital TV broadcasting

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As Malawi is migrating from analogue to digital television broadcasting Tuesday, Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) and some television stations have said they expect that the government will not switch off the transmission before viewers are fully sensitised and migrated to the digital network.

In separate interviews, Cama and some television stations faulted the government for not conducting enough awareness campaigns for the general public to understand the digital migration concept and what ought to be done.

There are fears that some television viewers in Zomba and Mzuzu will be cut off which will create surprise and panic among the people as they have no knowledge of what the government intends to implement.

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Under the international Telecommunications Union (ITU) resolution, member countries are expected to migrate from analogue to digital terrestrial television broadcasting by June 17, 2015.

The Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) designated December 31, 2013 as the date for digital switch-on for all its member states and Malawi set out on the migration journey in 2010 and switched on its digital television Network on December 31, 2013.

Consumer rights activist John Kapito described the government’s decision to immediately switch off the country’s analogue television broadcasting system to digital broadcasting as an infringement of consumer rights following the state’s failure to conduct enough sensitisation to ensure smooth transition.

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“Though the date for the switch over is nearing, government has continued to drag its feet in sensitising consumers about what will happen. Digital migration is not about the broadcaster nor is it for government but the consumer. The benefits of this should have been sold to the consumer for them to understand.

“The moment government starts acting with an iron fist on the switch-over then that will be a recipe for disaster on the part of the government and the regulator and not the broadcaster because they still hold legitimate licences,” Kapito said.

He said the move to sideline concerns of consumers is likely to infringe on their right to information as they will have no access to information that comes through televisions.

Kapito said the government still has a lot of work to do such that it would be better for the government to make the day symbolic as it is the case in other countries so that the country prepares for a full migration.

Leonnard Chikadya, Managing Director for Times Group, owners of Times Television, said although the station fully supports the digital migration concept, government should avoid tampering with any of the station’s transmission sites.

He said to show the station’s support for the migration, the management bought studio and transmission equipment that is digital-compliant but the station will not be happy to see some of its viewers sidelined due to government’s failure to conduct enough awareness campaigns.

“We hope that 17th June 2015 marks the beginning of the digital migration process and that government is not going to switch off our transmission until all the consumers have been fully sensitised and migrated to the digital network,” Chikadya said,

He also said Times Television does not recognise the existence of any entity that the government says will be responsible for local television stations’ signals

“Government has set up its own company called Malawi Digital Network Limited through which they want all the local channels to take their signals for transmission to homes, would we allow that? That is a joke. Can I go to the bank and borrow money for a television station and be at the mercy of the government’s entity to manage signals on our behalf? Can you show me which government business is successful in this country? We can’t allow that and we will never allow that,” he said.

Joy Television station manager Jimmy Kwizombe also said the station is now fully digitalised and ready for the migration but was quick to say consumers’ awareness campaigns are needed.

“People do not know what digital migration is all about and to take them by surprise, I think is a mistake because those people have got the right to get information for the development of the country. Government and all the licensees need to come up with programmes that will create awareness in people,” Kwizombe said.

Director for Balaka-based Luntha Television, Andrew Kaufa, also said the station’s studio and transmission equipment are fully digitalised but there is need for proper management of the panic that will come when people realise that they are not watching television.

“People need to be told what to do and how to solve their problem. Secondly, I think it is an opportunity for those who are in business of selling the required equipment to import as many decoders as possible so that they easily become available to the people,” Kaufa said.

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