THE Media Owners Association of Zambia (MOAZ) is demanding that TopStar gives priority to local content providers by suspending some of its Chinese content until it has resolved the technical challenges being cited as reasons for not carrying local channels on the recently approved conditional spectrum.
MOAZ vice-president Evans Banda urged the national signal distributor, TopStar, not to default on its mandate by ensuring that it acts immediately to switch on all licensed local television channels. Banda said MOAZ had been following this matter with keen interest as the digital migration project was implemented to promote national development and pluralism in the media landscape.
“To that effect, some of our members met all technical requirements and have been waiting for TopStar to allocate them broadcasting spectrum. We are aware that previously, TopStar cited lack of capacity as the reason for its failure to carry local licensed television channels. However, in order to address this challenge, ZICTA early this year acted in good faith to approve conditional extra capacity for Lusaka and Kitwe,” he said.
“Despite this gesture of goodwill from the Authority, TopStar has yet again come up with other technical reasons as to why carrying local channels may take long. This smacks of sinister motives and is of great concern to the media fraternity and the nation at large.”
He said as a public signal distributor, TopStar’s mandate was to carry all licensed local channels without discrimination.
“To date, sadly, sufficient capacity on the existing platform has been allocated to Chinese content as opposed to local channels. We feel that this act alone of prioritising foreign content is tantamount to discrimination as 17 million Zambians do not understand the Chinese language being promoted on those channels,” he said.
Banda said the delays were causing anxiety among members as they have been incurring huge operational costs from the time they were approved to start broadcasting by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA).
“We therefore demand that TopStar gives priority to local content providers by suspending some of its Chinese content until it has resolved the technical challenging being cited as reasons for not carrying local channels on the recently approved conditional spectrum,” he said. “Further, we are aware that TopStar is trying to restrict our members to only broadcast either in Lusaka or Copperbelt using the approved extra capacity. We find this to be unnecessary and we demand that local content providers should be given the chance to reach viewers in others parts of the country as long as they are able to meet requisite transmission fees.”
He urged TopStar to expeditiously act on this matter and switch on licensed local channels failure to which, MOAZ would encourage the affected members to consider lawsuits for the inconvenience and costs incurred so far.
“TopStar should also rectify the anomaly of encoding the bite rate at 0.9Mbps and 1.2Mbps that local channels have been subjected to and bring it to the minimum standard definition of at least 2Mbps in order to improve the signal quality. Lastly, we appeal to the government through ZICTA and IBA to engage TopStar and provide guidance on its mandate by law to perform its duty as a national signal distributor,” said Banda.