The Sunday Times reported today (29 September 2013) that, in a confidential deal with MultiChoice, the SABC has agreed that it will not carry any of its free-to-air channels over a terrestrial platform that includes conditional access systems.
Conditional access is the use of encryption technology in digital broadcasting – a system which E-tv wants government to include in the set-top boxes it will subsidise in the digital terrestrial TV (DTT) migration.
The deal, which was signed on 3 July 2013 according to the DA, prohibits the public broadcaster from making any of its channels available on any platform that uses access controls.
The DA has joined free-to-air broadcaster, E-tv, in calling the deal into question.
According to the DA, the terms of the deal in question were never put before the SABC board, and the party questioned how such a deal could have been made without approval by SABC group COO, Lulama Mokhobo.
This deal “severely” jeopardises the government’s set-top box (STB) local manufacturing policy which was designed to boost the local electronics industry and create thousands of jobs, the DA said in a statement.
“Minister Carrim needs to explain whether the SABC had government approval to sign this deal that contradicts government’s years-long insistence that set-top-boxes (STBs) have access control systems to, in the main, grow and protect the local electronics manufacturing industry,” said DA shadow minister of communications, Marian Shinn.
According to the DA’s statement, the process to determine the successful proposals to manufacture STBs for the digital terrestrial TV migration has shown no progress since former communications minister Dina Pule halted it earlier this year.
Speaking in response to the cry of uncompetitive behaviour from e-tv, MultiChoice South Africa Group CEO, Imtiaz Patel defended the agreement, and accusing E-tv of wanting government and taxpayers to subsidise its pay-tv amibitions.
“We have no problem with competition and have always welcomed it,” Patel reportedly said.
“We only have a problem with E-tv and others potentially choosing to get a free ride from government.”