Spokesman for the department of communications, Siya Qoza, has said that the decision to use encrypted set-top boxes in SA will not sideline local black business – as claimed by Namec – and has criticised the industry body of aligning itself with the pay television “monopoly” that is Multichoice.
Qoza aired his views in an opinion piece in today’s (20 April 2014) Sunday Times, where he disputed claims made my Namec’s Keith Thabo and Vijay Panday that broadcasters – including smaller community broadcasters – would be forced to use the set-top box control system.
“The cabinet decided in December that broadcasters would be free to decide whether they wanted to use a control system or not. Those who want to use the system will also pay for it,” said Qoza.
“Their claim that their channels ‘could become unaffordable or inaccessible’ is absurd. Why would the Department of Communications do anything stupid like that, which goes against our mandate?”
Qoza said countries like Tanzania, Malawi, and Namibia were already using similar “hybrid” set-top boxes, whereas countries like Mauritius had gone the non-encrypted route and had been flooded with “cheap imported converters that do not function adequately”.
He also refuted claims that local black businesses would suffer because of the decision to use a control system.
“The department is committed to ensuring that emerging black manufacturers benefit from the production of the set-top boxes. But we cannot support the narrow interests of one section of emerging black entrepreneurs.”
Qoza went on to criticise Namec and Multichoice’s joint stance against set-top box control.
“In June 2012, all stakeholders, including MultiChoice, agreed with the new control system standard. But since those amendments don’t meet the narrow business needs of these Namec leaders, they now insist the whole process be simply ignored. If the policy is so wrong, why would the industry regulator, Icasa, fully support it, as have major black business organisations?”
“If these association leaders are actually serious about black empowerment, why are they not focusing on MultiChoice’s 98% monopoly on pay television?” said Qoza.
Digital TV fight
The issue of so-called “set-top box control” has divided South Africa’s broadcasting sector into those that support it, led by E-tv, and those that oppose it, led by MultiChoice (DStv, M-net).
A set-top box, or STB, is a decoder-like device that all South Africans who currently receive their TV signals with a standard antenna will need to buy when the country migrates from analogue broadcasting to digital terrestrial television.
In an effort to resolve the feud between the broadcasters, the Department of Communications proposed policy amendments that would let broadcasters decide (and pay) for themselves whether they would like to use the features offered by STB control, such as encryption. Cabinet approved the policy amendments towards the end of 2013.
However, the policy amendments did not remove the requirement to include a control system from the South African National Specification for STBs sold here.
Since then, a war of words has erupted between MultiChoice and its supporters, and the Ministry of Communications over the STB control issue.