Digital Television and its (Dys)Functions in Africa

Digital Television and its (Dys)Functions in Africa

John Bosco Mayiga (The University of Western Ontario, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5844-8.ch002
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In 2006, the International Telecommunication Union resolved on a digital terrestrial broadcasting plan to migrate all television broadcasting systems from analogue to digital by June 2015. The stated objective of the switch to digital systems is to achieve qualitative and quantitative rationalization in order to maximize communication benefits. While digital migration may be seen as part of the exponential developments in science and innovation, it obscures serious conceptual issues and social inequalities. This chapter offers a theoretical examination of the ideological and political-economic logics behind the global digital terrestrial migration plan. From a broad critique of the concepts of “Knowledge Society/Information Society,” taking a critical lens into the works of Daniel Bell (1974) and Manuel Castells (2000), and drawing from Guy Berger's (2010) critique of the digital migration process, this author questions the logic of approximating digitization to development and argues that the mandatory migration of TV broadcasting systems requires critical analysis regarding its social costs to Africa.
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Digital Migration And Developmentalism

Since RRC-06, different countries in both the developed and developing world have integrated digital migration plans within their development trajectories, with emphasis on the strategic addition of digital migration to the overall economic development objectives. Within the digital migration discourse, terms like digital migration, the switch over, analogue switch-off, digital switch-on and digitization are variously used to refer to the same process of movement from analogue to digital system of broadcasting. In this paper, I also use the terms interchangeably to refer the same process.

While the commonly stated utility of digital migration is to achieve the efficient and rational use of the spectrum, there are various social, political, economic and cultural appropriations that are articulated within specific countries’ digital migration strategies. For example, South Africa foresees digital migration as contributing to “the delivery of quality education, health, medium and micro-enterprise programmes, the opportunity to develop new skills and the creation of new jobs, and new investment opportunities…” and therefore directly contribute to the “Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGI-SA),” which is the overall poverty eradication strategy (Government of South Africa, 2008, p.2). South Africa further projects digital migration as helping to address some of its historical, racial, and political problems, by contributing to building “social cohesion” and a “common national identity.”

Uganda, on the other hand, looks at digital migration as enhancing “the mobilization of masses for social-economic development” and as a major contributor to the “government strategy for poverty eradication as envisaged in the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP),” which is the overall government strategy to fight poverty (Uganda Communications Commission, 2010, p.4). Needless to say, the factual basis of these lofty claims is hard to empirically establish.

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