Icasa plans finalised

2004-01-11 19:55

Johannesburg - The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has finalised its position paper on the review of ownership and control of the broadcasting industry. It will publish the paper on Tuesday.

The paper is expected to set out the regulator's plans for the licensing of additional commercial radio services and set out proposed legislative amendments to be submitted to Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburi for tabling in the national assembly.

The policy paper is expected to outline Icasa's position on, among other things, limitations on ownership by foreigners of South African broadcasting licences, limitations on ownership across media platforms (mainly print and broadcasting), limitations on the control of commercial broadcasting services and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

The launch of Icasa's position paper on broadcasting and licensing comes against the backdrop of mounting calls from a number of media companies that the industry's ownership regulations be relaxed, arguing that this will promote previously-shunned foreign direct investment into the sector.

The sector had called on the regulator to consider flexibility in foreign ownership limitations in instances where good cause can be shown, for example where foreign investment can bolster BEE or elevate a local media company into a global player.

The Independent Broadcasting Authority Act does not set any restrictions on direct foreign ownership of print media, but it caps ownership of broadcast media by foreigners at 20%.

In the print media industry, Irish-based Independent Group owns 100% of The Star and its sister newspapers, including The Daily News and The Cape Times; London-based Pearson plc owns 50% of Business Day and Financial Mail, and UK-based Active Value owns about 29% of Primedia, which owns 702 Talk Radio and 94.7 Highveld Stereo.

The possible relaxations of cross media limitations might enliven activity in the sector which has so far been characterised by depressed earnings, falling advertising revenue and a stifling regulatory framework.

Icasa sunk Macozoma's plans to buy Kagiso Media for R377m in 2001. Nail is currently a subject of a take-over by a consortium including Tiso, Investec and Safika.

Talking to City Press Business on Friday, the Nail chief executive officer welcomed the possible relaxation of media regulations, and added that such a development could bolster much-needed consolidation in the sector.

"Icasa has all the firepower to open up the broadcasting field without necessarily throwing restrictions overboard.

"Current legislation limits the advancement of empowerment in the sector and recent experience with Nail provides ample proof that black players in the media cannot buy, consolidate and create economies of scale," said Macozoma.

Macozoma contends that the 20% restriction on foreign ownership limitation should be lifted to 34.9% to attract investment.