Recent media reports suggested that the Minister of Communications, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, halted the pay-TV licensing process. The Department of Communications did not take kindly to these remarks and decided to hit back.
An article by Anton Harber published in the Business Day, titled ‘The Ministry of Dithering and Delay’, said that the DoC put the breaks on the pay-TV licensing process, explaining that it “should wait until the launch of digital terrestrial at the end of 2008”.
Last minute ‘clarifications’ are nothing strange in the local telecoms space which is why this information did not surprise or shock consumers and industry experts but it did leave a bad taste in the mouth. These kinds of moves from the DoC served as a reminder of the self-provisioning debacle in the telecoms space two years ago.
DoC hits back
The DoC Director General, Lyndall Shope-Mafole however hit back in a press statement entitled ‘Director General of Communications corrects some statements in the media of Digital migration attributed to the Minister Matsepe-Casaburri’.
“From recent media reports it is clear that there is confusion regarding the Pay TV licensing process that has been started by ICASA and the Broadcasting Digital Migration Strategy process launched by the Department of Communications. The Department would like to set the record straight on a number of issues,” the statement reads.
The statement said that “at no point has the Minister proposed that there be a moratorium on pay television licensing process, as has been alleged by the media” and “that it is common and legislated knowledge that the licensing of broadcasting services is and continues to be an ICASA process.”
The Department of Communications explains
“The document that was issued for public comment largely represents the proposals of the Digital Migration Working Group which was made up of experts and representative of the broadcasting industry in the main. The Group handed its report to Minister late last year.”
“The department hosted a consultative workshop which was meant to collect views from the broader ICT industry. It was made clear in the workshop that the draft strategy and the implementation were not representative of the views of the department and therefore the Minister. Industry was given until the 4th of April to submit input for consideration by the Department for gazetting.”
“The Cabinet took several decisions on digital migration early this year. Most significantly the Cabinet approved a three year ‘dual illumination’ period during which both the analogue and digital signals will be transmitted starting with the 1st November 2008. This is essential to ensure that the public has some time to acquire Set Top Boxes (STBs) that would enable the continued use of current analogue TV sets. Otherwise it would be necessary to buy digital-ready TV sets.”
“Migration of broadcasting system to digital will enable broadcasters to have better capacity to provide more diversity of services, especially broadcasting in all South African languages, thus ensuring that South Africans are provided with a much higher degree of local broadcasting content thus contributing to building social cohesion and a common national identity sooner rather than later.”
“At the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)- the United Nations Specialised agency for ICTs- to which the country is a member, has set an international deadline of 17 June 2015 for the switch from analogue to digital signal distribution after which analogue broadcasting will not be protected. Our country intends to beat this target date.”
ICASA to continue?
This may be seen as Matsepe-Casaburri backtracking on her previous statements, but it will still have to be seen whether ICASA will continue undisturbed with the Pay-TV Licensing process.
According to Harber’s article this will be a test for ICASA to establish their independence and show that they are not the “Independent Communications Arm of the Ministry”.
South Africa is certainly in need of a more competitive Pay-TV market, but this debacle may prove to be far more significant than simply licensing new competitors to Multichoice and MNet.