The only logical conclusion for last-minute amendments to South Africa’s Broadcast Digital Migration Policy (BDMP) is that Minister of Communications Faith Muthambi has an inappropriate relationship with MultiChoice.
This is according to DA Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Marian Shinn.
She was commenting on amendments made to the BDMP with respect to the set-top box (STB) control mechanism that would be included in government-subsidised STBs.
An STB is a decoder-like device that TV viewers will need in order to receive the new digital terrestrial television (DTT) signal, which is set to replace our old analogue system.
No new deadline has been set for South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital TV.
Set-top box control dispute
Muthmabi gazetted the amendments to the BDMP on 18 March 2015, which included the addition of paragraph 5.1.2(B).
“The STB control system for the free-to-air DTT STBs shall – (a) not have capabilities to encrypt broadcast signals for the subsidised STBs; and (b) be used to protect government investment in subsidised STB market thus supporting the local electronic manufacturing sector.”
Shinn said the changes are not in the interest of the industry and the South African viewer, and raise suspicions about Muthambi’s reasons for making these changes at the last minute and going against Cabinet.
Muthambi announced at a post-Cabinet media briefing on 5 March that the STB control mechanism in government-subsidised boxes would be a security feature only, and will not include conditional access or encryption.
However, Shinn said that after reading the gazetted policy, she realised that there have been significant changes to the definitions which, while simplistic in their reading, are confusing when read against the earlier versions of the policy.
“I suspect that Minister Muthambi hoodwinked her colleagues into thinking these were benign changes. Analysts in the broadcasting sector are puzzled as to how you can have an STB with control, but no encryption capability.”
Muthambi’s pro-MultiChoice decision ill-intentioned: DA
Muthambi’s decision was ill-intentioned and will stifle competition in the free-to-air television market, Shinn said.
She said it has the potential to put E-tv out of business, while entrenching MultiChoice’s monopoly in the pay-TV market and guaranteeing the SABC’s dominance in the free-to-air space.
Shinn said the Minister should have put these changes out for public debate, as they will have a serious impact on the broadcasting sector and could be legally challenged.
“This would add further delays in the transition to digital broadcasting and the release of spectrum to bridge the digital divide.”
She called on Muthambi to appear before Parliament to explain the gazetted amendments.
Should Muthmabi not provide an adequate explanation, the DA will ask Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate potential abuses of power.