South Africa: Cape Town's community TV channel finally takes to the air

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It's been a lengthy process, which began with the launch of the initiative two years ago and has been hampered by delays, but CTV, Cape Town's community television station, is finally up and running.

Funded by donations, sponsors, membership fees and advertising, and operating from a single office at the Afda, the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance in Observatory, with a small staff and equipment that was "begged, borrowed or stolen", CTV has proved that it doesn't take astronomical finances to fund a television channel.

While in its fledgling state, CTV broadcasts limited content to the greater Cape Town area via the Tygerberg transmitter. This covers areas as widespread as the City Bowl, Muizenberg, Atlantis, Gordon's Bay and Somerset West, with a potential 2.5 million people.

"Initially we began with one hour a day, with new content every evening at 6pm, which is looped with billboards," says station manager Karen Thorne. "People do need to realise we are still small and very new. We are not like other broadcasters with lots of money - there will be mistakes but it's a learning curve," says Thorne.

"Audiences must be forgiving and see it in context. Although we certainly aspire to professional standards we are not and never will be DStv. We will have that home-made feel which I believe is part of our brand and our charm."

The road towards a community channel for the Mother City has been a long and winding one. When the initiative was launched in September 2006, Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) wasn't issuing broadcast licences so the time was used to carry out research, explains Thorne. "That helped to inform our business model and get studio equipment in place. We put in a licence application in November last year and it was granted this April. So it's been a long run-up period."

Although free-to-air and readily available, community television is not the same as the other channels viewers are used to; it is not an entertainment- and commercially driven medium delivered with no participation. "Capetonians and people generally don't understand community media and public access television," says Thorne "We looked at this around the world and adapted it for the South African environment. It addresses transformation, social change and city issues.

These issues include substance abuse, service delivery, housing, environmental concerns, consumer rights and job creation. "Community television is about grassroots communication and a sense of community ownership," says Thorne.

This means there are multiple ways to engage with CTV, whether it's NGOs, non-profit organisations, film and television students or members of the public. Together they provide content in various sectors including arts, education, labour and sport.

"For example, arts organisations can work together to produce programmes that promote their needs," says Thorne. "The public can become involved through producing programmes, which can be a combination of professionals and volunteers and students. It gives them a break into the industry, nurtures emerging talent and allows them to acquire skills."

Programme proposals are welcomed and if they are in line with the CTV policy, the channel can issue a letter of intent which can be used for raising funds.. For now, content includes children's programming, sport, religion, documentary and actuality, with news on the cards for next year.

"We also encourage home video content which can be shot on a video camera or cellphone and sent to us on DVD," she adds. There will soon be a facility to upload directly to CTV's website. "I have a great desire that people should love CTV with all their heart. It reflects their lives in a true and authentic way," Thorne said.

Tune in by using the "channel search" button on your remote control, or TV set. You will find CTV between e.tv and SABC3. Viewers who receive SABC and e.tv through their DStv decoders and who have removed their analogue aerials will not be able to receive CTV unless they re-install their old aerials. To contact CTV, write to Box 13863, Mowbray 7705, or see capetowntv.org