Communications minister Faith Muthambi came in for a lashing from the ANC at the weekend for defying party policy on the encryption of digital terrestrial television signals, Business Day reported on Monday.
The newspaper said the ruling party could force Muthambi to reverse her policy, which states that broadcast signals for digital TV will not be encrypted.
Earlier this year, Muthambi reversed government’s previous policy, developed by former communications minister Yunus Carrim, who had attempted to craft a compromise policy, but one in which encryption was still mandated for government-subsidised TV set-top boxes.
ANC communications subcommittee chairman Jackson Mthembu said on Sunday at a press conference following the party’s national general council meeting in Midrand that Muthambi had failed to discuss her final policy on digital migration with her colleagues in the party, Business Day reported.
“The ANC want to sit down with the minister and hear from her why she decided on this policy,” Mthembu reportedly said. “Our interest is to protect the public broadcaster and to make sure that people who do not have access to pay-TV do not receive an inferior service.”
At the heart of the encryption debate is a battle between commercial broadcasters e.tv and MultiChoice. The former wants encryption, saying it’s vital to support free-to-air broadcasters’ future success as it would allow them to get access to superior content. The latter argues, among other things, that if government subsidises set-top boxes with encryption, it will amount to unfair competition in that prospective rival pay-TV operators will be able to use the platform without incurring the high cost of first deploying their own set-top box infrastructure.
If the ANC forces Muthambi to change the broadcasting digital migration policy, it could lead to more delays in the already long-delayed migration process, which is holding up the allocation of spectrum to telecommunications operators.
Telecoms providers need the spectrum in the “digital dividend” bands currently utilised by broadcasters to expand their broadband networks. Already, South Africa has missed the June 2015 deadline, agreed to with the International Telecommunication Union, to switch off analogue TV broadcasts.
Last month, TechCentral reported that e.tv has filed an application for leave to appeal a judgment by the high court that went against it in the ongoing battle over whether South Africa’s digital terrestrial television signal will be encrypted or not.
In June, the court stated that amendments to South Africa’s broadcasting digital migration policy, gazetted in March, will remain in force. The judgment was a significant victory for Muthambi and for MultiChoice. — © 2015 NewsCentral Media