Government wants big sports events to be free-to-air: ‘People that can afford DStv are not better than others’

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and the Department of Communications want a number of major sporting events to be free-to-air as they are in the ‘public interest’.

Presenting to the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday (10 March), Icasa said that events such as the olympic games as well as the rugby, cricket, soccer and netball world cup tournaments should be broadcast on free-to-air channels such as SABC and eTV.

The move has been backed by Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who indicated that sports have a part to play in South Africa’s social cohesion and reducing inequality.

“We are not going to say that the SABC can afford to compete with Multichoice, they have different money,” she said.

“But at the same time, we shouldn’t give an indication that those that can afford subscription services are better than others.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams said that these regulations were being introduced to help with this balancing act and ensure that ordinary South Africans are being served.

She added that pay-subscribers should also not be disadvantaged by these regulations and that businesses must still be allowed to grow and make money.

Not going to happen

In response to the proposed plan, DA MP Phumzile van Damme said that the SABC and government simply did not have the funds to buy the international broadcasting rights.

“I understand the reason behind the regulation. You want the whole of South Africa to watch sport on the SABC – which is a good thing,” she said.

“But this won’t happen. It is just populist and if this is the idea that you are taking out to the public then it’s a lie. There’s no way this is going to happen.”

Van Damme said it was not possible for the SABC to send its own cameras and crew to these international events as they were highly regulated and the broadcast rights are sold as part of international bidding.

She added that these bodies are unlikely to give the SABC preferential rates on broadcasting rights, while Icasa could not stop companies such as SuperSport from bidding for these rights.

Instead Van Damme said government should find a ‘middle-ground’ as with the Rugby World Cup final which was broadcast on the SABC.

Draft plans 

In December 2018, Icasa published the Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations which aim to formalise its plans to cut down on the monopoly around sport.

As part of the draft regulations, Icasa listed many popular sporting events which must be broadcast live by a free-to-air service like the SABC.

  • Summer Olympic Games
  • FIFA World Cup
  • Rugby World Cup
  • ICC Cricket World Cup
  • Africa Cup of Nations
  • ICC T20 Cricket World Championships
  • International Boxing Federations
  • National Netball
  • Commonwealth Games
  • International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)

If a free-to-air licensee, like the SABC or eTV, cannot acquire the sporting rights for these events, subscription service broadcasters like MultiChoice can bid for the rights on a non-exclusive basis.

Numerous other sporting events, like Super Rugby, Currie Cup, Premier League Soccer, and the COSAFA Cup, are available to subscription broadcasters on a non-exclusive basis.

The regulations further require free-to-air and subscription services to broadcast at least two minority sporting codes like golf, tennis, martial arts, basketball, squash, and motorsport.

A number of South African bodies have united in a bid to oppose new broadcasting regulations, as they stand to lose significant funding due to the new model.

DStv is the largest funder of a number of sporting codes in the country, with many South African sporting groups reliant on the broadcaster for their day to day operations.

Read: Here are all the DStv price increases for 2020

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Government wants big sports events to be free-to-air: ‘People that can afford DStv are not better than others’