South Africa set for digital television wars

Press Statement

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Multichoice South Africa, the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronics Components (Namec) and the Association of Community TV in South Africa (ACTSA), have once again voiced their opposition to the inclusion of STB control or conditional access in the set-top boxes which will be required to receive the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) services of the public service broadcaster in the country.

The concerned parties were responding to a set of draft amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy, published by the Department of Communications (DoC) on 6 December 2013. Despite vocal opposition by the SABC, community broadcasters and emerging manufacturers, the amendments require that all FTA STBs will have a control system.

Mr. Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC’s Acting Chief Operations Officer (ACOO) stated “In October this year, before the draft amendments were released, the SABC publicly stated its position that the organisation does not support conditional access on set-top boxes.

Our position is based on the fact the SABC has a mandate to make its services available to all South African citizens, in line with Universal Access.  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”.

Mr. Motsoeneng further went on to state that “It is in the SABC’s interest that any subscription DTT Set Top Box (STB) is capable of also receiving the SABC Free to Air (FTA) channels.  In this case any DTT subscriber would not have to purchase an additional FTA STB in order to receive the SABC FTA DTT channels”.

It must be noted that if the SABC channels were encrypted on DTT by means of a particular encryption system that is different to that of particular subscription service, this DTT STB would not have the ability to receive the SABC channels. In addition, having a set-top box with conditional access would put an extra burden on consumers, as this would drive up the cost of the set-top box.

The concerned parties would like to highlight the decision of the High Court of South Gauteng in the 2012 litigation brought by e.tv against the Minister of Communication. In this case, the court declared that FTA broadcasters are responsible for the STB control system and the SABC has called on the Department of Communications to give effect to this decision.

Multichoice questions the legality of the proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy, published by the Department of Communications on 6 December 2013.

The published draft proposes that all STBs must contain an STB control system, but that the use of the system will be optional.

In  the eTV decision  of September 2012 the High Court stated clearly that the Minister “has no power in law to prescribe or make binding decisions relating to the STB control system” and “does not have the power to prescribe to FTA broadcasters how they should manage STBs”.

Multichoice is finalizing its submissions on the draft amendments and will raise these legal concerns. “No person is above the law and we hope the Minister will ultimately act in accordance with the decision of the court, rather than inviting unnecessary litigation that will continue to delay the migration from analogue to digital” said Mr. Calvo Mawela: Group Head, Stakeholder and Regulatory Affairs. 

Mr. Keith Thabo,  NAMEC’s  President stated that “The continuing impulse on the issue of STB control present a huge problem to our members and has the potential to destroy the many businesses that have been set up to take advantage of the migration from an analogue broadcasting system to a digital system. NAMEC at various forums has pronounced its objection to the inclusion of Conditional Access and Encryption in the STBs. This position has been strengthened further by the court judgement in the ETV vs. Minister of Communications”.

He further commented that “As NAMEC we strongly object to the draft policy amendment in its entirety, as it contravenes the court decision. It is our view that the Minister runs the risk of being in contempt of court in our reading of the draft policy. We urge the Minister to withdraw the draft policy in its entirety and call on him to desist from making amendments that make pronouncements on STB control. This is because the court is clear that such a pronouncement does not fall within his competency and should be left to free to air broadcasters to decide.”

Mr. Collin Mackenzie from Act-SA said “the voice of the majority of broadcasters who are legally entitled to make a decision on this matter have not been heard. Many interested parties opposed the inclusion of STB control or encryption mechanism in STB specifications. To have control on set top boxes will not be in the interest of public service broadcasting in the country and instead it would favour only commercial free to air broadcasters”.

Issued By: SABC, Multichoice, Act-SA and NAMEC on the Friday, 20 December 2013.

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