The SABC and MultiChoice have disputed a report by Business Day that the public broadcaster would face a R100 million penalty should it not launch its promised 24-hour entertainment channel by Thursday [3 October].

In a joint statement, the South African Broadcasting Corporation and MultiChoice said they had “noted with regret an exaggerated and shrewd newspaper article titled, ‘SABC could face R100m penalty’ published today on Business Day”.

“There is an existing agreement between MultiChoice and the SABC that clearly outlines each party’s contractual obligations, and the contract does not have any clause or provision where it is indicated that SABC will pay R100 million if the SABC entertainment channel is not launched by Thursday,” it said.

“The contract does have time frames in which the SABC should launch, and that time has not lapsed as yet and it is imperative to note that the parties are at liberty to discuss further if there is a need to do so. At present the parties are discussing the details of the content that has to be carried on the entertainment channel. The final date of the launch will be announced once the discussions are complete.”

DA spokeswoman on communications, Marian Shinn, is concerned about the impact of this deal on the roll out of digital terrestrial television as it directly contradicts government’s position on DTT.

Shinn was responding to a story in the Sunday Times’ Business Times which alleged a deal – signed on 3 July 2013 by SABC’s acting chief operating Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, acting chief financial officer Christian Olivier and MultiChoice’s CEO ofPay TV Platfortms Eben Greyling – prohibits the public broadcaster from making any of its channels available on any platform that uses access controls.

“I understand that these conditions for the 24-hour news and entertainment channels were not put before the previous SABC board. We need to know how thoroughly the interim board understood the far-reaching consequences of this agreement and how thoroughly they interrogated the business case,” Shinn said.

“This deal severely jeopardises the government’s set-top box (STB) local manufacturing policy which was designed to boost the local electronics industry and, supposedly, create thousands of jobs.” is equally annoyed. The free-to-air channel, which recently launched its own satellite channels, and was in discussion with the SABC to carry its channels too, told the Sunday Times the M-Net digital set top box would be able to “grow its terrestrial service “off the back of the SABC and E-tv without any compensation”, should they not be encrypted. The company’s COO, Bronwyn Keene-Young, said this would effectively give M-Net “the right to free-ride on the SABC channels” on its own DTT set-top boxes.

Shinn has called on new communications minister Yunus Carrim to explain whether the SABC had government approval to sign the deal “that contradicts government’s years-long insistence that STBs have access control systems to, in the main, grow and protect the local electronics manufacturing industry”.

She said about 36 companies submitted responses last September to the department of communications’ request for proposals for the manufacturing of STBs with access control systems. “The announcement of the successful manufacturers was put on hold earlier this year when former minister Dina Pule announced that the DTT policy was being reviewed. There has been no known progress on this revision,” Shinn said.

In the meantime, Carrim has asked the broadcast industry to “work with government in speeding up the implementation of South Africa’s digital migration”.

Speaking at a breakfast briefing organised by The New Age and the SABC, Carrim said, “What we need to know from the industry is that are we ready to go?” He said government is on course and wanted to “put pressure” on the relevant partners.” We brought all public broadcasters on board and told them to choose a facilitation team. We are in the midst of those negotiations and we are not moving as fast as we would like,” Carrim said.

Carrim said government’s main concern was to protect the electronic industry and jobs. “We also want to ensure that new entrants don’t use any government subsidies to create pay tv on the one hand and also there are high levels of monopoly and concentration in the industry. We want to give space to the emerging entrepreneurs especially in the set top boxes (market),” he said.

He said government’s 2008 decision to subsidise the set top boxes for five million of the poorest South African television households was born to protect the state’s investment in subsidised set top boxes, and to avoid a situation where set top boxes acquired using taxpayers’ money left the country.

Source: The MediaOnLine – Glenda Nevill