Senegal at crossroads of digital broadcasting

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

With less than three years left to meet the June 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for all countries to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, Senegal has begun to flex its muscles to join the likes of France, Britain and Germany, among others, vowing to go an extra-mile to realise its broadcasting dream.

Senegal’s process of transition to terrestrial digital broadcasting, which began in 2010, is due to be completed nationwide in 2013, the government said, adding that it is a challenge and a commitment the country must win.

Already, Channel 6 of Radio Tambacounda, a branch of Radiodiffusion Television Sénégalaise (RTS), the country’s public broadcaster, has gone digital and more is to follow in the near future.

The equipment and the studios are brand new, and the premises renovated to reflect the technological changes and winds of innovation blowing throughout Tambacounda, this vast but ‘forgotten’ province in eastern Senegal. The provincial capital, also named Tambacounda, is located 400 km southeast of Dakar.

Tambacounda has a mix of most of Senegal’s ethnic groups and its populations are mostly Muslim, with Christians of Roman Catholic Church making up of only 1.8%.

Founded in 1968, Radio Tambacounda (92.0) broadcasts 24 hours throughout the province in various languages, ensuring that the medium constitutes a critical tool for diversity of views and socio-economic development of the region, whose populations told Biztechafrica that they felt marginalised by the central government that seems to focus its resources more on the capital city Dakar.

But that is about to change, the provincial governor said, calling on the authorities to do more for the station. RTS authorities said they were working hard to rehabilitate and digitally equip the impoverished broadcasting stations (radio and TV) of Kaolack, Thies and Saint-Louis.

Saint-Louis, in the north, is Senegal’s second-biggest city and the country’s first capital before 1960’s independence.

Senegalese Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye said recently that the digital revolution was within the reach of every country, as long as they strove to find the means to be present at the appointment of history.

However, while digital broadcasting’s fever appears to be spreading throughout West and Central Africa, with residents bracing themselves to embrace such technological changes, one man warned against content that marginalises the voice of minorities.

“Without the images, sounds and writings that don’t reflect a cultural diversity, the transition from analogue to digital broadcasting will be reduced to a simple technical approach,” Abdou Diouf, former head of state and current S-G of International Organisation of Francophonie said.

In a country where viewers and listeners are used to set-top-boxes (STB) of private content emanating from CanalSat, Radio-TV Dunyaa and others, it seems as if people won’t have much problems adapting to these technological changes, despite their limited resources.

“We are a poor country, but what can we do? Latest technology is the way to go these days. We need quality images and sounds, so we’ll do our best to get it. Let it come, we are ready for it,” Moustapha Diagne, a resident of Golf-Sud in Dakar, told Biztechafrica.

Industry watchers believe private radio and TV companies in Africa stand to benefit the most in the new technological broadcasting era.

At least 80% of TV channels in sub-Saharan Africa are run by private broadcasters, and in a few countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda or Senegal, state broadcasters are no longer in the dominant position in terms of audience share and advertising revenues, according to DISCOP Africa.

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