Communications Yunus Carrim ignored two crucial constituencies in his “ill-tempered” response over the past few weeks to questions about his policy on the digital migration of television services. This is according to a column by Keith Thabo and Vijay Panday in today’s (6 April 2014) Sunday Times.
“Instead of acknowledging the many deficiencies in the option being pursued by the government — putting costly encryption software in the set-top boxes that millions of people will require to watch free to-air television channels such as SABC and e.tv — the Department of Communications has instead chosen to question the credentials of just one of his critics, MultiChoice,” the column read.
The pair stated that in doing so, the department had “turned a deaf ear” to the views of those most endangered by the encryption option: the emerging black-owned and community television sectors.
“We have no mandate to speak for community TV stations, but it is worth reminding the minister of a statement by their representative body Act-SA last week, warning that the government’s preferred option ‘will undoubtedly contribute to killing off the community television sector’.”
Thabo and Panday argued that set-top box control would increase the barriers to entry for emerging black manufacturers as they would have to be accredited by a conditional access vendor – a process which would set manufacturers back two to three years.
On Sunday, 16 March 2014 Multichoice, Act-SA and Namec published an open letter to Carrim, asking him to allow free, unencrypted digital terrestrial television to launch without any further delay.
According to the three parties, the government’s current position is that set-top boxes must include technology which is unnecessary and expensive, specifically encryption technology which is used to control access to TV services
“We have serious reservations about this – it has been almost universally rejected internationally, it will make the migration process more expensive and it is opposed by most South African broadcasters,” MultiChoice and others said in the open letter.
Carrim hit back, saying that the open letter is “astonishingly inaccurate and serves to substantially weaken the case of those opposed to the government’s policy”.
“These are the same old, tired issues that several experts responded to in detail in the facilitation process on the Set-Top Boxes (decoders), necessary for the transition from the current analogue to digital television,” said Carrim.
“The STB policies are consistent with the ANC’s Mangaung resolutions and government’s policies on encouraging competition in monopolised sectors, BBBEE, job-creation and advancing the needs of the poor and disadvantaged,” he added.
He added that ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), the regulator, fully supports the government policy on control.