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PULE POINTS FINGER AT e.tv, SABC

The communications minister says she is still waiting for e.tv and the SABC to finalise set-top box access control.

Communications minister Dina Pule says she is still waiting for e.tv and the SABC to finalise the set-top box access control mechanism, and that this is holding up the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.

Pule made the comments at a breakfast hosted by The New Age newspaper and sponsored by Telkom in Johannesburg on Thursday. But e.tv has denied the minister’s claim, saying she held up the process with legal wrangling.

Last May, Pule issued an instruction that state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech should manage the control system for digital television, which will ensure, among other things, that government-subsidised set-top boxes will not be resold outside the country’s borders. Consumers will need the boxes to receive digital signals when analogue broadcasts are terminated.

But e.tv took exception to Pule’s decision, taking it on review to the high court. In December, the high court handed down judgment in the free-to-air broadcaster’s favour, finding that the minister had acted “unlawfully”. Pule filed an application for leave to appeal, but later withdrew this.

At Thursday’s breakfast, which was broadcast on SABC television, Pule said that the migration process was not as far off course as some critics had claimed and that the set-top box control specification was the last remaining obstacle.

“If I say, ‘SABC, please do switch on’, they can do so because they are ready,” she said. “We’ve already rolled out 80% of the digital signal and what it means is that we just need set-top boxes to go and connect, and boom!”

However, she said a decision still needed to be taken as to which companies would manufacture the boxes. She added that free-to-air broadcasters were to blame for the ongoing delays because they hadn’t finalised the access control system.

“Last year, we took a decision we wanted to fast track … the finalisation of the set-top box control but we were stopped because I was taken to court and the court decided that the free-to-air broadcasters are the ones that are supposed to finalise these control systems and therefore I’m waiting for them. I’m waiting for them since January.”

E.tv chief operating officer Bronwyn Keene-Young said the minister’s comments were “interesting” given she was appealing against the high court’s decision “until mid-February”. Keene-Young said neither e.tv nor the SABC could do anything until the appeal had been resolved.

She said e.tv had made a number of proposals to Sentech to expedite the access control process and that the broadcaster may how have reached a solution with the help of the SABC. “I can’t disclose the details but hope to do so soon,” she said.

“Let’s not forget that in the middle of all of this, the SABC board has been dissolving,” Keene-Young said. “To blame free-to-air broadcasters is unfortunate to say the least.”

Source: (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media – Craig Wilson