R553-million DStv-SABC deal questions unanswered

Despite threats of financial penalties if the SABC encrypts its signals on South Africa’s digital TV platform, the Department of Communications is continuing its policy review on the matter.

This is according to a statement issued by DA Shadow Minister of Communications, Marian Shinn, after receiving a reply to a parliamentary question.

News emerged towards the end of September that MultiChoice and the SABC had entered into a secret deal where the state broadcaster had committed to not carry its channels on a terrestrial platform that uses conditional access.

South Africa is busy migrating from analogue broadcasts to digital terrestrial television (DTT), but the process has stalled due to a disagreement between broadcasters on the issue of encryption and conditional access.

Shinn said that the deal between MultiChoice and the SABC was signed on 3 July 2013 and afforded the SABC two 24-hour TV channels on DStv.

Under the terms of the agreement, penalties would apply under the following conditions:

Should any one or more of the SABC FTA [free-to-air] channels be made available on the SABC DTT platform in South Africa at any time during the term [of the deal] on an encrypted basis, and that access to the SABC FTA channel(s) is/are controlled or limited by means of a conditional access systems or otherwise not freely available for viewing…

“MultiChoice could then suspend the agreement by which it pays SABC R553-million over five years for the rights to flight its 24-hour news and entertainment channel on its platform and ask for its money back, or continue to air the channels without paying further fees, or be refunded by SABC for the money paid,” Shinn wrote.

Marian Shinn
Marian Shinn

Shinn explained that SABC and E-tv were early champions of the need for an access control system on the decoder-like set-top boxes (STBs).

She added that this was seen as a critical component of the local STB manufacturing strategy for which about 36 South African electronics companies bid, last September, for the manufacturing rights.

Shinn said that the DA would submit follow-up questions to Minister of Communications, Yunus Carrim, to find out whether the SABC had government’s permission to enter into the contract with MultiChoice.

Carrim must also answer questions on what steps are being taken to renegotiate the SABC’s agreement with MultiChoice, Shinn said.

“Transparency and clarity is needed to ensure that the deal between the SABC and MultiChoice will not hamper the public broadcaster, or the Department of Communications, to deliver on their DTT transition promises,” Shinn said.

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R553-million DStv-SABC deal questions unanswered