The Democratic Alliance (DA) has accused the SABC of jumping the gun by taking the decision not to support conditional access of set-top boxes – while Cabinet is yet to reach a decision on the matter.
On Thursday (31 October), SABC Acting Chief Operating Officer (COO), Hlaudi Motsoeneng announced that the public broadcaster would not support conditional access in its digital terrestrial transmmission (DTT) set-top boxes (STBs).
“Our services, both television and radio, have always been on a free-to-air basis and going forward this will also be the case for DTT,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that a public servant can unilaterally decide on government policy – and expose the SABC to potentially damaging legal challenges – before Cabinet has decided on the matter,” said DA shadow minster of communications, Marian Shinn.
Minister of communications, Yunus Carrim told media last week that he would soon present to Cabinet his department’s recommendations on the digital migration policy review started by his predecessor.
Part of this review was to determine the need for an access control system on the set-top boxes which is needed to view its programmes once digital broadcasting is switched on, the party said.
In July, it was reported by the City Press that the SABC had signed a deal with MultiChoice which included a clause stating that, should SABC’s free-to-air channels be made available on the SABC DTT platforms on an encrypted basis, MultiChoice could cancel the R553 million due to SABC for airing its 24-hour news and entertainment channels on its platform.
The deal was signed while the Department of Communications’ policy review was in progress.
Carrim recently confirmed that the digital migration policy was still being reviewed, the DA noted in a statement.
“Minister Carrim must explain how this situation has evolved and the financial and reputational risks that the government is now exposed to,” Shinn said.
“The Minister must also account for the credibility blow this has delivered to the government’s strategy to boost the electronics industry’s capabilities through producing STBs with access control systems.”
Meanwhile, the Media Workers’ Association of SA (Mwasa) on Friday (1 November) welcomed the SABC’s decision to make its DTT set-top boxes free-to-air.
“This unexpected statement represents a rare glimpse or signs of an SABC regaining consciousness of its role as the premier provider of freely accessible public broadcasting services,” Mwasa said.