COURT action by free-to-air broadcaster e.tv against Minister of Communications Dina Pule had the potential to delay the implementation of digital terrestrial television migration in December, Pule said.
On the sidelines of a leadership forum hosted by the SA Communications Forum on Monday, Pule explained: “If it turns out it’s going to hamper us we would turn to the market and say we have an elephant in the room.
“It is unfortunate that we have this court case, but it is one of these things that happen in life,” she said.
Vasili Vass, a spokesman for e.tv, last week said that the broadcaster could not comment beyond the court papers or while the court case was under way.
The matter was scheduled to be heard yesterday.
Vass said yesterday that the hearing was postponed until later this week, with the possibility of scheduling the hearing for early next week.
The broadcaster wanted the South Gauteng High Court to declare unlawful and of no force or effect, a decision by Pule made on May 10 that instructed Sentech to take responsibility for the set-top box control system for free-to-air digital terrestrial television.
The control system consists of software that provides instructions and updates but also controls the geographic functionality of the boxes within the country’s borders.
The broadcaster also wants itself and the SABC (listed as a fourth respondent in court papers) to be declared responsible for the set-top box control system.
Pule had no statutory or regulatory power to appoint Sentech, e.tv argued.
Pule’s department has opposed the application and argued that the International Telecommunication Union’s provisions enabled her to make the decision.
She was surprised by the court case because in August e.tv, Sentech and the SABC had agreed to collaborate.
The department also argued that the broadcasters were free to procure set-top boxes separately for their customers.
Sentech is the state’s signal distributor and it is opposing the matter on the basis that e.tv has no legal standing on which it can claim the relief.
Setumo Mohapi, the chief executive of Sentech, in court papers argued among other things that if e.tv and the SABC were granted responsibility, they could be in a position to “frustrate entry into the market on the part of new free-to-air licensees”.
Digital terrestrial television migration is a government-led project that will see the state providing subsidised set-top boxes to 5 million households in South Africa.
The set-top boxes convert digital signal into visuals on televisions that can only receive analogue signal.
Governments globally are currently in efforts to migrate nations to the use of digital signal equipment.
The international deadline to complete this task, which is a requirement of the International Telecommunications Union, is June 17, 2015.
The migration frees up radio frequency spectrum and will result in more entrants into broadcasting.
The national government initiated a soft launch and digital migration awareness campaign in the Northern Cape last month.
Manufacturers of set-top boxes for the government’s migration project are yet to be appointed.
The commercial launch of the migration is set to take place from December.
Source: Business Report – Asha Speckman