Gov't reverses course on TV encryption - TechCentral

Gov’t reverses course on TV encryption

Government is set to back encryption in digital terrestrial television, a sharp reversal of its position on the contentious subject, following the appointment of a new communications minister last month.

Communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo confirmed in parliament on Tuesday that her department’s policy on the issue will shift to one that favours encryption.

Last week, political journalist Stephen Grootes reported from the World Economic Forum on Africa event in Durban that the Dlodlo had said that government would implement encryption in digital set-top boxes, in line with ANC policy.

This is a reversal from the position held by her predecessor, Faith Muthambi, who was moved to the public service & administration portfolio last month when President Jacob Zuma reshuffled his cabinet.

The change in direction comes ahead of a constitutional court judgment, expected to be handed down soon, that will deal with the issue. Muthambi — supported in her application by MultiChoice — challenged a supreme court of appeal judgment that found in favour of free-to-air broadcaster e.tv on the issue.

In May 2016, e.tv won a significant battle in the long-running war over encryption when the supreme court found that an amendment to the broadcasting digital migration policy by Muthambi, made in 2015, did not follow a process of consultation and was irrational and in breach of the principle of legality.

The court found, too, that the amendment did not achieve its purpose and was thus irrational and invalid. Muthambi purported to bind regulatory authorities and broadcasters and thus acted ultra vires (beyond her authority), the court said.

MultiChoice, which owns M-Net and DStv, and e.tv have been at each other’s throats for years over encryption of the signals. The pay-TV broadcaster has argued, among things, that putting encryption in government-provided free set-top boxes would amount to unfair competition. E.tv, on the other hand, argued that if this didn’t happen, the free-to-air broadcasting sector in South Africa risked being “ghettoised”.

MultiChoice said on Tuesday that it is not aware of any official position from government on the subject, and declined to comment further.

Democratic Alliance MP Marian Shinn described Dlodlo’s reversal of the policy “a great step forward”. (Also see the opinion piece, written by Shinn, Set-top box move is ‘good news’.)

The South African Communist Party welcomed the news of government’s policy reversal, saying Muthambi’s 2015 amendment was done “simply to benefit parasites and Naspers”, which owns MultiChoice.

“The SACP agrees with the basic principles underlying the policy, specifically the strategic aim to strengthen free-to-air, public and community television broadcasting,” the party, which is an ANC alliance partner, said in a statement.

Former communications minister Faith Muthambi

“Naspers was established during colonial rule in South Africa and served as the mouthpiece of the Broederbond, the ideological vanguard of apartheid. The action to strengthen its monopoly and parasites could only be the function of false radical economic transformation at the expense of true radical economic transformation,” the SACP added.

“In sharp contrast, true radical economic transformation must de-monopolise our economy. It must decisively elbow the stranglehold of private monopoly capital, concentration, oligopolies, oligarchs and parasites from the neck of our economy, including in the media and communications sector.

“The digital terrestrial television broadcasting space must therefore be democratised by means of bringing an end to the monopoly of Naspers’s MultiChoice.

“The government must use the [broadcasting digital migration]process to expand access to new entrants. Encryption significantly lowers the financial barriers to entry for new entrants in the pay television sector, while allowing for state revenue generation to recover, over a few years, the cost of the initial … subsidisation of [set-top boxes].”

The SACP said, too, that the inclusion of encryption would give South Africans, including the poor, access to a variety of digital platforms including e-government services. “E-government services can only be delivered in home language and geographically specific form, with [set-top boxes] that have functional conditional access/encryption chips.”

The party called on Dlodlo to withdraw the appeal application before the constitutional court. — © 2017 NewsCentral Media

7 Comments

  1. CharlieTango on

    I suppose the SA Communist Party is aware that Naspers has now become a mouthpiece for the Gupta’s ANN-7 “news” channel (DStv channel 405), the ideological vanguard for state capture?

  2. Piet Le Roux on

    The ridiculousness​ of this idea is mind boggling! Nowhere in our brondcasting zone (that includes most of Europe) any form of encryption is being used. This means that our equipment would be proprietary and thus much more expensive than the TV equipment already available in our zone, this combined with a weak rand will kill the industry. Al they have to do is to fix the frequency and mode of digital transmission for which equipment in our zone is already being made, finalize the specification, publish in government gazette and then we can then buy equipment of the shelf. But no the cANCer first want handout some of our money to friends!

  3. Stephen Grootes and the SACP are all clueless. The REAL issue from day ONE of the Digital Migration plans almost 10 years ago has been the totally wrong idea of government to completely want to control the local manufacturing and distribution of the STBs themselves, and initially subsidise, later completely give away the Gov decoders for mahala to 5 or 6m poor households. This has caused the major delays and massive cost overruns.
    Broadcasters SABC, eTV and Naspers could have all come with their own decoders, with or without encryption.
    The only step left to rescue the digital migration is that Gov stops all intervention in the STB manufacturing and distribution, and giving away the freebies.
    We better scrap DTT altogether now, and we can all choose between Dstv , Starsat or OVHD FTA sat tv. Or stream from the web.

  4. Andrew Fraser on

    “The SACP said, too, that the inclusion of encryption would give South Africans, including the poor, access to a variety of digital platforms including e-government services. “E-government services can only be delivered in home language and geographically specific form, with [set-top boxes] that have functional conditional access/encryption chips.””

    This appears to be what Kelley-Anne Conway would call an “alternative fact”. e-services should not require signal encryption or CA.

  5. Andrew Fraser on

    “The government must use the [broadcasting digital migration] process to expand access to new entrants. Encryption significantly lowers the financial barriers to entry for new entrants in the pay television sector, while allowing for state revenue generation to recover, over a few years, the cost of the initial … subsidisation of [set-top boxes].””

    There will be no new entrants. The only winner will be e. tv. The losers: the taxpayers that fund their business.

  6. Vusumuzi Sibiya on

    >>”The digital terrestrial television broadcasting space must therefore be democratised by means of bringing an end to the monopoly of Naspers’s MultiChoice.”

    This is the kind of thinking of one who would believe that there are future prospects and opportunities in something like the digital compact disc whose time has come to pass just like cassettes and LPs.

    MultiChoice is faced with more compelling threats which are online and are fast changing the territorial licensing rules for content; and their position on encryption is actually a life savior to FTA platforms and BDM.

    The time to compete with Multichoice was 15years ago; the real threats to this space are far bigger than the so called “monopoly of Naspers’s MultiChoice.”