DStv in the firing line as government aims to make more sports free to watch in South Africa

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has published its Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations for public comment, aiming to make sports more accessible to the wider public.

The draft bill aims to regulate the broadcasting of national sporting events, as identified in the ‘public interest’, within South Africa.

Icasa said the following national sporting events may be broadcast live, delayed-live or delayed by free-to-air broadcasting service licensees:

  • Summer Olympic Games;
  • Paralympics;
  • Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup;
  • Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Women’s World Cup
  • Africa Cup of Nations
  • Rugby World Cup;
  • International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup;
  •  International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 Cricket World Championships;
  • Netball World Cup;
  • Commonwealth Games;
  • International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) World Athletics Championships;
  •  Super Rugby;
  • All Africa Games;
  • Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA) Cup;
  • Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League;
  • Confederation of African Football (CAF) Confederations Cup;
  • MTN 8;
  • Telkom Knockout;
  • Nedbank Cup;
  • Currie Cup;
  • The Association For International Sport for All (TAFISA) World Sport for All Games.

Icasa said that sports could be added to or removed from this list at a later date. It also proposes strict fines for broadcasters who do not abide with the regulations once they are in force.

In explaining the regulations, Icasa pointed to Section 60(1) of the  Electronic Communications Act which provides that subscription broadcasting services may not acquire exclusive rights that prevent or hinder the free-to-air broadcasting of national sporting events, as identified in the public interest from time to time.

“South Africa is a country which is characterized by inequalities which play a role in, inter alia, how television is accessed by people and the nature of the services available to individuals,” it said.

I said that despite the overall 82.2% television penetration in South Africa, only 12.61%i is for subscription television services.

“Accordingly, programmes aired on free-to-air broadcasts – on both radio and television – are available to a much wider audience than programmes broadcast on other platforms including subscription services,” it said.

Rugby World Cup 

Icasa said that it has observed a trend whereby national sporting events are mostly broadcast live on Subscription television, resulting in the majority of South Africans being unable to access such events on a live basis due to affordability of such service.

It highlighted the 2019 Rugby World Cup whereby the rights were bought by a subscription broadcasting licensee leaving the majority of South Africans excluded from accessing the National team’s participation in the World Cup, apart from the final match which was broadcast after public outcry.

“Nevertheless, the authority is keenly aware that the sports industry relies on the sale of broadcasting rights as the biggest source of their revenue. Sporting bodies that submitted representations contended that the best commercial offers for their rights were often made by subscription broadcasters.

“This situation contributes to the majority of South Africans being denied access to sports of national interest,” it said.

In light of the above considerations, Icasa said it has in the amended draft regulations sought to give effect to the provisions of section 60 of the ECA whilst considering the competing concerns of the financial sustainability of broadcasters and ensuring increased access to national sporting events is provided to most of the South African population.

Read: 7 things the SABC wants you to have a TV licence for in South Africa

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DStv in the firing line as government aims to make more sports free to watch in South Africa