e.tv warning on digital decoders

The television decoders that the government proposes introducing — which viewers will have to buy to view free channels — will not be used by the SABC as a means of cutting off people who have not paid their TV licence fees.

A furore over the SABC’s alleged plans to “control” the new decoders has erupted between the public broadcaster and free-to-air broadcaster e.tv.

The government plans to introduce the decoders in November as broadcasting moves from the analogue to the digital format.

The free-to-air broadcaster has written to the department of communications warning that the SABC wants “conditional access” to be built into the decoders.

e.tv claims that SABC viewers who have not paid for their licence will be cut off and will lose access to e.tv.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said that the state broadcaster had made submissions to the Independent Communications Authority about the decoders , but denied that it intended using the decoder as a punitive tool.

Kganyago said: “We never said we are going to switch off viewers who have defaulted on paying their TV licence.”

Kganyago said he was unable to elaborate on the contents of the SABC’s submissions to the communications authority.

“I am not able to talk about our submissions before Icasa has had the opportunity to look at them.

“We will never switch off anyone. That is not our intention. We don’t operate like private broadcasters.”

Vasili Vass, a spokesman for e.tv, acknowledged the necessity for the change from analogue to digital format but, said the free-to-air station believes the SABC has asked for conditional access and, if it were granted, viewers would be cut off.

Vass said: “This is contrary to free TV in South Africa: that’s our main objection.

“This will give a third party power to decide whether you can watch free-to-air television.”

This was especially unfair to poorer communities, Vass said.

Icasa spokesman Sekgoela Sekgoela said: “We are awaiting a directive from the department.”

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e.tv warning on digital decoders