Botswana: BTV may be forced to switch off for non-payment of satellite fees


Botswana Television may be blocked from transmitting its signals allegedly for failure to pay rental arrears for use of satellite space. BTV is understood to owe about P25 million accruing from use of the transponder by which the station beams its signal.

Allegations that the station has not paid for its transponder arose early this year, amid fears by some staff members that the station's signal may be blocked. A transponder is a unit within a satellite that can be rented, instead of purchasing an entire satellite, which would run into hundreds of millions of Pula, before launching costs.

The device is used to wirelessly receive and transmit electrical signals. A single transponder can carry multiple TV and radio channels. It is not clear if the national radio station, Radio Botswana uses the same transponder as BTV. The Department of Broadcasting Services runs both BTV and Radio Botswana.

While he conceded that the Department was yet to pay the satellite provider, Broadcasting Services boss Mogomotsi Kaboyamodimo said the allegations were lies."This is unfortunate falsehood. We have just entered into a new 12 months contract with our satellite service provider and we shall be paying the agreed contractual service fees as per our agreed schedule of payments. We do not owe any money for this service," he said.

Kaboyamodimo would not say when "recent" is nor who the satellite service provider is or how much the department is paying for the service. In his response he said that, "details of the contract are privileged information between ourselves and our service provider and therefore I cannot provide any further details."

Meanwhile reports suggest it is "things fall apart" at the station owing to much staff discontent and systems that just will not work. The station is reportedly not archiving programs as it has run out of tapes normally used for that purpose.

"The station has been without D9 tapes for sometime and lots of previously archived programs have been deleted as reporters and producers find themselves without a choice but to use tapes with archived material, otherwise BTV will not be able to broadcast any new material" said an employee at the station. "Chances are that you will not find the first broadcast by BTV which was on July 1, 2000".

The archiving problem is already costing the taxpayer millions of Pula as BTV fails to take advantage of privileges that come with purchasing programmes. "Suppliers normally give television stations that buy their programs the privilege to copy and repeat those programmes. However, due to shortage of D9 Tapes, BTV is not able to take advantage of this arrangement," said another source.

Interestingly BTV is reported to have not long ago acquired a new multi-million Pula system, which replaced the old Quantel system that should allow for automatic archiving and therefore less dependence on the manual system that needs the prohibitively expensive D9 tapes. A DS 9 tape, depending on the brand and length of play can cost up to P500. Kaboyamodimo has called the allegations " unsafe speculation". "In any case these are not issues for discussion with newspapers," he said. While the station is reportedly grappling with the issue of the transponder and the problem with archiving, it also finds itself beset with problems over encryption. The station is not encrypted and this has allegedly brought it at loggerheads with program suppliers. Encryption is used to control access to television services. Due to the fact that it is not encrypted BTV can be viewed by people across Africa, from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt.

"When a suppliers sells a television station a programme, the price is determined by the number of people the station says will be watching the program. In the case of BTV that price would be determined by the 1.5 million people who are likely to own a television set. But because the station has not encrypted, its programs can be watched by several hundred million people," said a source.

This has allegedly angered some of the suppliers who have since asked BTV to stop airing their repeat programs.This has allegedly resulted in the station repeating programs produced by the station years ago. The station is reportedly finding itself with no content to air especially after the 9 p.m. news, and has resorted to immediately airing freely accessible France 24 or some football repeat programmes.