The fallout between free-to-air broadcaster etv’s shareholders has blown open allegations that the company tried to lobby government to include set-top box (STB) controls in decoders that will be required to view television once SA migrates to digital TV.

While the broadcaster does not deny lobbying government for STB controls, it does reject reports it agreed to give favourable coverage of government’s infrastructure programme to influence digital migration policy.

“All parties on both sides of the debate seek to persuade those in power to support their position. That includes lobbying. The infrastructure programme was not linked to set-top-box control or lobbying for it and in that series, eNCA retained at all times, full editorial control,” says etv spokesperson Vasili Vass.

Etv, owned by Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) subsidiary Sabido, is in favour of STB encryption, pitting it against the South African Broadcasting Corporation and MultiChoice, which oppose the inclusion of STB controls.

“The concept of set-top-controls is a fight about the way in which the future of television will look in South Africa. Our position has been that set-top-box controls [are] an efficient way of delivering a mixture of television and other messaging in the future, and of securing the viability of free to air broadcasting.”

SA’s digital migration process has effectively stalled around the issue of the digital migration policy, which is currently with Cabinet for final approval; however, no timeframe is available for this part of the process to be concluded.

Last week, HCI co-founder Marcel Golding reportedly revealed in court papers that attempts had been made by economic development minister Ebrahim Patel and HCI executive Yunis Shaik to influence etv’s news content to give prominent coverage to government’s infrastructure development programme. Golding alleged that, in turn, Shaik saw this as an opportunity to lobby government to support etv’s stance on STB controls.

Golding subsequently resigned from HCI, claiming political interference in etv’s editorial policies, and is facing disciplinary charges for trading in Ellies shares.

No influence

Meanwhile, the Department of Communications – one of two departments currently embroiled in an alleged power struggle for control over the digital migration process – says etv would not be in a position to influence government policy.

“There is no way etv can influence government policy. The government consults multiple stakeholders and not an independent stakeholder. It is, therefore, an unfounded claim that etv has influence in the development of government policy regarding STB controls,” says DOC head of stakeholder management Ayanda Hollow.

In terms of the DOC’s position on STB controls, Hollow notes the DOC has consulted stakeholders in an open forum and “is in the process of consolidating inputs in order to finalise its position on the STB control system”. This process is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.

Asked whether the DOC or communications minister Faith Muthambi have held any discussions with Patel about STB controls, Hollow states: “The department is in the process of consolidating inputs obtained from stakeholders, including all government departments in the economic cluster, towards finalising the STB control system.”

Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS) spokesman Siya Qoza acknowledged receiving ITWeb’s questions, but did not revert by the time of publication. The DTPS is the other department that is claiming jurisdiction of the digital migration process.

Source: ITWeb – Martin Czernowalow