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SET-TOP BOX BATTLE HEADED TO SUPREME COURT

E.tv has been granted leave to appeal a judgment that went against it in its battle with communications minister Faith Muthambi over set-top box encryption.

E.tv has been granted leave to appeal by the high court in Pretoria, setting the stage for a legal showdown at the supreme court of appeal in Bloemfontein between communications minister Faith Muthambi and the free-to-air broadcaster over set-top box encryption.

In June, the high court dealt a blow to e.tv when it ruled that amendments to South Africa’s broadcasting digital migration policy, gazetted in March, would remain in force.

The amendments removed government’s support of encryption in the 5m set-top boxes it intends providing free of charge to indigent households.

“The court has affirmed the amendments to the broadcasting digital migration policy that were gazetted on 18 March were in the best interest of the public,” Muthambi said at the time.

The judgment was seen as a significant victory for both Muthambi and for DStv parent MultiChoice, which is vehemently opposed to government providing subsidised set-top boxes that use an encryption-based conditional access system.

The pay-TV broadcaster has argued, among things, that doing so would amount to unfair competition.

E.tv, on the other hand, is strongly in favour of the use of such a system in the set-top boxes, arguing that it is needed to prevent the “ghettoisation” of free-to-air television in South Africa. It has argued previously that encryption is necessary to ensure free-to-air broadcasters can get access to the latest and best international content.

Muthambi’s decision not to require encryption in the set-top boxes was a reversal of an earlier cabinet decision.

At the time that e.tv brought the legal action against Muthambi, its chief operating officer, Mark Rosin, said: “E.tv considers it essential that it be able to encrypt its broadcast signal primarily because this would prevent non-compliant set-top boxes from receiving digital broadcast signals, thereby ensuring a uniform and reliable viewer experience. Without a fully conformant platform, broadcasters such as e.tv would in the future likely be unable to provide broadcasts in high definition.”

Source: News Central Media – Duncan McLeod.