Free-to-air broadcaster etv has taken the Department of Communications (DOC) to task over statements it says misrepresent the nature of a recent ruling against communications minister Dina Pule, and imply that free-to-air broadcasters are responsible for delays in digital TV migration.

The ruling, handed down in the South Gauteng High Court last month, labelled Pule’s decision (taken in May 2012) to assign management of the control system for set-top boxes (STB) to Sentech as “unlawful and of no force”.
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Pule’s decision was legally rejected and free-to-air broadcasters etv and the SABC were given jurisdiction over the control of the STB system, which involves encryption of digital signals.

The court also ruled the Independent Communications Authority of SA would be the only body responsible for the regulation of set-top box control.

Riled up

On Monday, Pule filed an application for leave to appeal the High Court verdict and the DOC met with free-to-air broadcasters. According to the department, the meeting was intended to give parties the opportunity “to consider the implications of implementing the High Court’s decision [to grant broadcasters management of the STB control system]”.

The subsequent DOC statement, which has riled etv, stated the court decision could lead to delays in the implementation of digital migration of up to three years, “if stakeholders do not manage the matter with the necessary care and urgency”.

Yesterday, etv released a statement of its own to “set the record straight” on the impression it says the department has created in the wake of the court ruling.

“If the minister were to abide by the decision of the High Court, the free-to-air broadcasters would be in a position to put the digital terrestrial television (DTT) process back on track with immediate effect. Unfortunately, the ministry has proceeded to issue media statements which misrepresent the nature of the ruling and which imply free-to-air broadcasters are responsible for the delays on DTT.”

Misused meetings

While Pule’s spokesperson, Siyabulela Qoza, said on Tuesday the meeting between the DOC and relevant broadcasters ended well, with all parties agreeing to consider all options available for a speedy implementation of DTT, etv says this is untrue.

The broadcaster feels it is being side-lined and that the department is intent on restating its original position, which has been rejected by the court.

“Much has been made of meetings arranged by the ministry with broadcasters to ‘resolve’ the issue. This is untrue as the ministry has used these meetings merely to restate its original position (which the court ruled against).

“In addition, several solutions proposed by etv, both during and after the litigation (including at this week’s meetings), which would allay many of the ministry’s concerns, have not been taken into account. Instead, the ministry’s statements imply that free-to-air broadcasters would be responsible for the delay in issuing the set-top box tender.”

Etv says it hopes the solutions that it will present to the communications ministry, along with the SABC, will be taken seriously, “so that the process can get back on track without further litigation and inevitable delays”.

In response to etv, Qoza says the department has its focus on the consultation process with all of the free-to-air broadcasters. “We look forward to receiving input from the free-to-air broadcasters and to finalising the matter as soon as possible.”

Missing the mark

SA’s migration to digital TV kicked off in September last year, when the first phase was turned on in the Karoo. The nationwide commercial launch was scheduled for last month, but has been delayed by legal processes since etv lodged its court filing, also in September.

Several deadlines in the digital migration process have been missed since Cabinet decided to implement digital TV based on the widely-used European DVB-T standard in 2006. In January 2011, the department decided to move ahead with DVB-T2 and set November 2013 for turn-off.

The department has since conceded this date is out of reach, and is instead working towards meeting the International Telecommunication Union’s mid-2015 deadline.

Source: ITWeb – Bonnie Tubbs