MISA backs LCA on radio shutdown
MASERU – The Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Lesotho chapter says the Lesotho Communications Authority’s (LCA) suspension of popular commercial radio station Joy FM’s broadcasting license does not amount to impingement of media freedom.
MISA-Lesotho’s position comes in the wake of LCA’s announcement this week that its board of directors had issued an enforcement order suspending the sound broadcasting license of Joy FM for a period of three months “for its failure to resolve frequency interference between itself and People’s Choice FM and (Bloemfontein-based radio station) OFM. The suspension takes effect from the 14th September 2010 at 12:01 and ends on the 13th December 2010 at 12:00 midnight.”
“Joy FM has been directed to switch off its radio broadcast transmission equipment at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, the 14th September 2010 and commence with its broadcasting transmission at 12:01 a.m. on the 13th December 2010,” the statement said
MISA-Lesotho national director Tsebo Matšasa told Public Eye: “Having gone through the contents of the Enforcement Order by the Lesotho Communications Authority, I am of the view that there has been communication between the LCA and Joy FM. It is the duty of the LCA to protect the law and on the other hand is the responsibility of all the licensed radio stations to adhere to conditions of their licenses.” “
“Unless Joy FM can come out clearly that the problem at hand could be resolved by the LCA, I do not regard the Enforcement Order as being an impingement of the media freedom. It is, in fact, a move to protect the freedom of the media in that all have a different target audience and their programmes should reach such audiences without any interference.”
Matšasa said it was important to note that interference of one frequency by another may cause serious revenue-loss to the one whose frequency is being interfered with.
“Advertisement is the only way, at least in Lesotho, to raise much-needed funds to ensure media houses’ survival. It is therefore imperative that all radio stations broadcast without others’ interference, otherwise that may lead to loss of target audience by some advertisers.”
Asked if LCA’s decision was not a bit over the top, Matšasa said there was still room for Joy FM to engage the LCA, adding: “As for the order being too harsh, that is a question of law that will require me to do some research.”
“The role of MISA-Lesotho is always advocacy guided by research and the needs of media practitioners. MISA-Lesotho encourages media practitioners to always jointly address the challenges they encounter. This enables MISA Lesotho to advice and take the necessary measures on time.”
The LCA enforcement order further states that, “During the last month of the suspension period being the period from the 14th November 2010 to the 13th December 2010, the licensee should demonstrate to the Authority that it has found technical solutions on the interference matter to ensure that the harmful interference caused to PC FM and OFM by Joy FM do not recur and, satisfy the Authority that the proposed solutions would resolve the interference matter permanently. The failure by the licensee to find a permanent solution to harmful interference may result in the Authority considering further action against the licensee.”
According to LCA public relations manager, Tšiu Tšiu, the enforcement order was issued last Friday, September 10. It follows a long-running harmful interference on the part of Joy FM against People’s Choice FM and OFM, which Joy FM has failed to resolve.
The LCA, according to Tšiu, gave Joy FM a directive on July 14, to correct the anomaly within 30 days or risk having its license revoked.
A number of reasons had been tendered for the overlapping frequencies. They ranged from sabotage, inadequate transmitters, the altitude of Joy FM (perched atop Mpilo mountain), to interference by electrical equipment housing the radio station, as well as improperly screened and insulated radiation cables.
Last month, the principal technical officer at the Ministry of Communications’ Lancers Gap Transmitter station, Napo Ralitšoele, said interference of frequencies was quite feasible. He said this could only happen when the equipment used by a radio station was either old or lacked proper maintenance.
“An FM transmitter generates a lot of frequencies, and if a machine is old and not properly tuned, it can transmit its own frequency and others not designated for it. These are sidebands, and they have to be filtered before going on air but a machine that is not properly maintained will fail to carry out this function rendering the interference.
“It is possible that Joy broadcasts beyond its official designation, hence why routine maintenance and I cannot confidently say that Joy’s machines are maintained,” Ralitsoele said.
He said the interference had absolutely nothing to do with the screening and insulation of cables.
Peter Moepi, the former director of the company that installed Joy FM’s transmitter and station equipment when it first went on air in the late 1990s, said he suspected that the person responsible for the maintenance at the station was experiencing problems.
“I want to believe that there is some sort of fiddling with the transmitter and I really cannot say whether the equipment is properly maintained.”
There was no immediate comment from Joy FM management.