The communications minister has lost a high-profile legal battle affecting South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.

Communications minister Dina Pule and state-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech have lost a court battle with e.tv over which entities will manage the control system to be used in the government-subsidised digital set-top boxes needed in the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.

South Gauteng high court acting judge CG Pretorius found that Pule’s decision to instruct Sentech to assume responsibility for the set-top box control system was “unlawful”. He also awarded costs to e.tv.

The judge found that the minister overstepped her powers in trying to “describe to free-to-air broadcasters how they should manage set-top boxes”. Pule, he says in the judgment, had “no legal power to prescribe or make binding decisions relating to set-top box control”.

In addition, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is the only entity that may regulate set-top box control, the judge found.

“Subject to the regulatory powers of [Icasa], it is declared that e.tv, the SABC and other free-to-air broadcasters are responsible for the set-top box control system for free-to-air digital terrestrial television.”

E.tv filed suit against Pule, with Sentech named as a respondent, in September, accusing the minister of exercising powers she doesn’t have when, in May, she appointed the government-owned company to be the party responsible for managing the set-top box control system. Among other things, the control system — also known as the conditional access system — will ensure compliance with a minimum set of specifications for set-top boxes and prevent grey imports.

E.tv chief operating officer Bronywn Keene-Young has welcomed the court’s decision. She tells TechCentral that she hopes the decision will translate into an acceleration of the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television in the new year.

Pule’s spokesman, Siya Qoza, says the minister’s legal team is studying the judgment and it’s therefore too early to know whether an appeal will be lodged.

Source: Tech Central – Duncan McLeod.