MultiChoice ad astonishingly inaccurate: minister

Communications minister Yunus Carrim responded to an advertisement by Multichoice, Act-SA and Namec regarding digital TV, saying that it is “astonishingly inaccurate and serves to substantially weaken the case of those opposed to the government’s policy”.

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 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 has hit back at the “misleading adverts in today’s [16 March 2014] newspapers”. Carrim’s full response is provided below.

Response by communications minister Yunus Carrim

These are the same old, tired issues (raised in the advertisement) 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. The advert is astonishingly inaccurate and serves to substantially weaken the case of those opposed to the government’s policy.

At the heart of the dispute are the fears of a huge monopoly about competition. It’s 20 years into our democracy and we have to deracialise the economy. In all economic spheres where monopolies are challenged in our country, they resist fiercely. We can’t be constantly bullied. It is absurd that a monopoly that makes such huge profits in this country claims that it, not the ANC government, represents the country’s interests.

The policy is obviously not my personal, subjective decision. The policy was adopted by Cabinet in 2008. On 4 December last year, following an extensive facilitation process, Cabinet adjusted it so that broadcasters should be free to decide whether to use the control system in the Set-Top Boxes (STBs) or not. But the STBs will have a control system for industrial policy and other reasons. Those using the system will pay for it.

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.

ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), the regulator, fully supports the government policy on control.

Many other countries are using or about to use the same system. They include Zambia, Uganda, Botswana, Ethiopia, Seychelles, Malawi, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya, Malaysia Ukraine, Belarus and Slovakia.

If we drop control, the roll-out will be delayed by a year – and we were supposed to launch in September 2008.

We tried dropping STB control altogether but came up with the following obstacles:

  1. The SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) standard would have to be changed. The SABS said it would take 34 weeks to change the standard – if the parties agreed. The change of the standards on 2 previous occasions took 17 months and 16 months.
  2. Concerns that the South African market will be flooded by cheap low quality STB imports and undermine the local manufacturing industry and the prospects of jobs.
  3. Threats of legal action from broadcasters and manufacturers wanting control.

It is utterly wrong to say that government’s policy requires Free-To-Air signals to be encrypted. Broadcasters, not government, have the power to transmit their signals in any format they choose.

There is no payment required from citizens for Free-To-Air signals and content.

Only Free-To-Air broadcasters who use the control system will have to pay, not others.

Poor people will not be able to buy new digital televisions for years to come.

Most emerging Black manufacturers anyway support control. Without it, they will lose out to foreign imports.

The Department of Trade and Industry spends about R7 billion a year in industrial incentives to protect the local industry and create jobs. The benefits of control far outweigh the costs.

We are over five years behind schedule with digital migration, the ITU June 2015 deadline looms, and we need to release much-needed radio frequency spectrum for mobile broadband and other services. We need to move forward swiftly.

More on digital TV

Digital TV in SA: no encryption needed, says Cabinet

SABC jumped the gun on STB call: DA

SABC “free-to-air” set-top boxes welcomed

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MultiChoice ad astonishingly inaccurate: minister