Get ready for the switch

2013-12-23 00:00

AS you might already know, South Africa is to flip the digital switch for TV worshippers. While the date has been pushed back, the big switch is inevitable.

This will apparently be done to transport us from the evils of the analogue signal’s white, fuzzy snow to digital, in which we are told we will get a great picture, albeit the same amount of bad programming.

By 2014/15, the government wants the entire project rolled out country wide, which means an end to UHF and VHF signals as we enter the stage of Digital Terrestrial Television or DTT.

Most pundits have their doubts that this deadline will be reached.

From my experience of DTT while spending time abroad, this new phenomenon has the same effect as DDT: it numbs the brain, stops the buzzing and keeps us still.

I don’t think the problem is that there are too many television channels, but rather that there is difficulty in filling all the time, which is why we are being served up hours of rubbish.

I am not against progress. In fact, I cannot wait for the digital era finally to take hold, allowing me to watch endless reruns of The Simpsons, not to mention the multitude of 24-hour news we will possibly get.

However, it must be remembered that the good programming will probably still remain on DStv, so what the state intends to use to fill the time with is a point to ponder.

I hope it keeps in line with the country’s moral regeneration programmes and empowerment, not through jobs for friends, but through providing solid educational programming for the youth and adults.

Through the interactive interface of digital television, we could quite simply revolutionise our country if its power is harnessed correctly.

Before I embark on a series of broadcaster scheduled ridiculing, I must explain why we are going digital.

The first reason is because we are conforming with an international agreement signed in Geneva in 2006, which ultimately outlines how the entire globe will be digital by 2020, and tough if you don’t want to because all analogue signals will be interfered with from 2015 onwards.

The second reason is it will allow us to squeeze a few more SABC channels onto one frequency, increasing programming and more importantly, adding new revenue streams through advertising and pay per view.

Thirdly it will allow for better control of the monitoring of who has and who hasn’t paid their TV licence.

What we will be told in lovely glossy prints is that we get more channels, better-quality TV and more interactive ability, which will empower our nation.

And this is true.

You will be able to access the Internet and interactive educational programming from your television set in years to come, and, yes, the quality will be better.

Getting the right message across will be extremely important, but who determines what that message is, is where many South Africans get the jitters.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation has proven to us in recent months its inability to run our public service, e.tv is more like an advertising bulletin and has yet to make its 24-hour news service public on a free-to-air basis, and Multichoice has insulted South Africans by offering a cheap subscription package that offers no real viewing choice at all.

I believe our confidence in television is fairly low and it is up to these broadcasters to make us believe in the magic of television once again by offering real value for money.

The digitalisation of South African citizens must be approached holistically, or else we will simply become the dumping ground for developed nations’ unwanted or old programming, which will add little to our days, and simply numb the already numb viewer.

• Jonathan Erasmus is an investigative reporter at The Witness.

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