Communications regulator Icasa has decided to conduct a formal inquiry into the so-called “must-carry regulations”, which allow MultiChoice and other pay-television operators to carry the SABC public service channels at no cost.
The SABC wants the regulations amended, arguing that they are unfair and that commercial broadcasters have been exploiting the situation to their advantage and to its financial detriment.
The cash-strapped broadcaster, which has been lobbying Icasa for years to amend the must-carry rules, wants DStv, StarSat and others to pay to carry SABC 1, 2 and 3 on their platforms. They currently don’t have to pay for the channels as the regulations state they must be offered at no cost.
MultiChoice, it said last year, is getting a free ride, and it suggested that many of the most popular programmes viewed on DStv are in fact produced by the SABC — a claim the pay-TV operator has disputed. The SABC said changes to the regulations are necessary, at the very least, because the Electronic Communications Act requires Icasa to “protect the integrity and viability of public broadcasting services”.
Icasa has now concluded a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) report on the regulations and found that an inquiry is indeed warranted.
The aim of the inquiry will be to “reach a comprehensive and accurate conclusion on the effectiveness of these regulations and consequently decide whether the current regulations require an amendment”.
There is a “need for further consultation and to conduct an inquiry into the effectiveness of the regulations and possible review thereof”, Icasa said.
The SABC entered into a must-carry channel distribution agreement with MultiChoice Africa on 1 April 2011 in terms of which it relied on the “problematic” 2008 regulations to contractually guarantee non-payment for the SABC’s three must-carry television channels, the public broadcaster said in a written submission to Icasa ahead of Icasa hearings on the matter in 2018.
“At the time, the regulations seemed to be drafted on the basis that the ‘must-carry obligation’ was an onerous one for pay-TV licensees and that these broadcasters would be ‘doing the public broadcaster a favour’… On the contrary, the SABC must-carry channels have commercially benefited MultiChoice Africa and other subscription broadcasters at the expense of the public broadcaster…,” it said.
It said its leading shows are among the most-watched shows on the DStv bouquets. “The SABC channels consistently appear in the top-15 most-watched channels” on DStv “with little to no commercial value to the SABC”.
Soon after the Icasa hearings, in May 2018, MultiChoice Group CEO Calvo Mawela hit out at the SABC’s call for it to pay to carry its public service channels on DStv, saying it would not do so if the must-carry regulations were amended or scrapped. “I do not see the reason we should be paying for channels that are freely available.” — © 2019 NewsCentral Media