A R550 million deal between Multichoice and the SABC, which will hand over a large deal of control over the SABC’s news operations to the DStv owner, is being challenged by industry stakeholders.
Three groups – Caxton Publishers, Media Monitoring Africa and SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition – have approached the Competition Tribunal saying that the deal is not in the public interest.
In a press statement by Media Monitoring Africa, it said that the deal entered into between the SABC and Multichoice, in which Multichoice acquired control over part of the SABC business, constitutes a mandatory notifiable merger.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) started in 1993 and is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote democracy and a culture where media and the powerful respect human rights and encourage a just and fair society.
“We are not aware of any attempt to notify the Competition Tribunal of such a merger. If the deal is proven to be a notifiable merger it will enable us to oppose the merger on the basis that it is not in the public interest for it to take place,” MMA said.
“When news of the deal broke in 2013, both MMA and SOS expressed deep concern as to the nature of the deal. We both believe it fundamentally works against the best and long term interests of the SABC and the people it serves.”
Media Monitoring Africa expressed three main concerns with the deal:
- Handing over the SABC archive: The SABC has handed over power and control of its archives to Multichoice. The archives are an invaluable public asset, and giving control and access of the archive to a commercial player SABC has sold off the family jewels.
- Encryption turnaround: The SABC effectively ceded its power to determine its policy on set-top box control to a commercial broadcasting entity that is also its competitor.
- Best programming veto: The deal sets out terms for a future channel to be developed by the SABC, where Multichoice may veto some programmes and select only the best ones to be broadcast exclusively on the SABC-Multichoice platform. The deal therefore ensures the best future local programming is aired on DStv, and that citizens who do not subscribe to the Multichoice services will be denied viewing of the programmes.
A report by The Sunday Independent newspaper, titled “Diabolical and secret SABC TV deal exposed”, said that the Multichoice-SABC “Commercial and Master Channel Distribution Agreement” has been kept from public view under a confidentiality provision.
However, because it forms part of the Competition Tribunal case, and thanks to the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling in the City of Cape Town versus Sanral case, it is now a public document.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago told The Sunday Independent that the SABC would never allow its news operations to be influenced by another broadcaster.
Multichoice in turn said that it has not exerted any influence on SABC news. They added that they have many news channels on its DStv platform, and that performance requirements come standard with such agreements.