The high court in Pretoria this week handed a significant victory to communications minister Faith Muthambi as well as broadcasters opposed to the idea of subsidising an encryption system in the set-top boxes that government intends providing free to 5m poorer households as part of the country’s migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.
Judge WRC Prinsloo dismissed an application by e.tv challenging Muthambi’s decision to amend government’s broadcasting digital migration policy. The new policy makes it clear that the subsidised set-top boxes will not contain a conditional access system capable of decrypting encrypted TV signals.
The judgment is a victory for MultiChoice, which has said, among other things, that including an encryption system would amount to the unfair subsidisation of new pay-TV competitors in the South African market.
E.tv 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. But the high court dismissed e.tv’s arguments, and ordered the broadcaster to pay costs.
The judgment is now expected to pave the way for South Africa’s long-delayed digital migration project to get under way.
The full text of the judgment is included below in three parts in PDF format.