Members of the International Radio and Television Union from about 50 countries, meeting this week in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, say a lack of infrastructure and human and financial resources remains a major obstacle to the switch from analog to digital broadcasting in public media, especially in Africa.
They are asking governments and funding agencies to assist with digitalization, which they say is necessary in the changing media landscape. More than half of Africa's media is yet to fully digitalize.
Increasing reports of cross-interference between broadcasting and telecom services is a direct consequence of switchover delays, they said.
Professor Amin Alhassan, director general of Ghana Broadcasting Corp., says most African broadcasters are not serving their audiences and staying as relevant as they should because of the slow pace of digital transformation.
"Public media stations across the world are very old,” Alhassan said. “They have heavy investments in analog media and also analog media expertise. Our staff are used to analog systems, and to translate it into digital ecosystems is a challenge.
“Our challenge is how do you transform our existing staff to have a mindset change to understand the operations of digital media," he said.
The International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, says digital broadcasting allows stations to offer higher definition video and better sound quality than analog. Digital broadcasting also offers multiple channels of programming on the same frequency.
In 2006, the ITU set June 2015 as the deadline for all broadcast stations in the world transmitting on the UHF band used for television broadcasting to switch from analog to digital. A five-year extension, to June 2020, was given for VHF band stations, mostly used in FM broadcasting, to switch over.
But the International Radio and Television Union says most of Africa missed the deadline, did not turn off analog television signals and is missing the advantages of digital broadcasting.
Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda are among the first African countries to complete the switch.
South Africa said in 2022 it would switch to digital TV on March 31, 2023. Jacqueline Hlongwane, programming manager of SABC, South Africa's public broadcaster who attended the Yaounde meeting, said the switchover process is still ongoing after the deadline.
"Towards the end of last year, just before the soccer World Cup, we were able to launch our own OTT platform,” she said, referring to “over the top” technology that delivers streamed content over the internet.
“We are really, really excited about this because it's been something that we've been working on for a very, very long time,” she said. “South African audiences for now can get access to content, which means that as a public broadcaster, we are also moving towards digitization of content."
Public broadcasters say governments and funding agencies should help them with infrastructure and human and financial resources to increase digital penetration on the continent, which is estimated at between 30% and 43%, below the global average of about 70%.