MultiChoice has hit back at suggestions of improper dealings in its 2013 channel supply agreement with the SABC, saying the leaked minutes of a meeting that took place that same year between the broadcasters show “nothing illegal or improper”.
The DStv parent has been accused of using a commercial negotiation with the SABC to try to force its view that there should be no encryption for digital terrestrial television in South Africa onto the public broadcaster, in the process attempting to influence government policy on the subject, which at the time was up in the air. At the time, MultiChoice and e.tv were in the middle of a nasty battle over the encryption of terrestrial television signals in South Africa.
MultiChoice South Africa executive chairman Nolo Letele said in a statement e-mailed to TechCentral on Thursday afternoon that press statements issued by the Democratic Alliance and others made “two simple mistakes”.
The first mistake, Letele said, was that the meeting between the pay-TV operator and the public broadcaster was “clandestine”.
“The meeting was held at the request of the SABC, on their premises and, like other SABC board meetings, was recorded. Top management and board members of both parties were represented.”
He said remarks in the meeting by then-MultiChoice South Africa CEO Imtiaz Patel that the company did not normally pay for news channels carried on DStv have now led to “some strange motive” being imputed — “that MultiChoice made corrupt payments to the SABC simply for their support on non-encryption of set-top boxes”.
“This, among other statements, is a commercial discussion, mere sales talk to manage financial expectations. It is well known that we pay for many news channels. The SABC wanted MultiChoice to pay as much as possible and MultiChoice wanted to pay as little as possible,” Letele said.
He said, too, that selective reference had been made to the minutes of the meeting.
“MultiChoice has a longstanding relationship with the SABC dating back to the early 1980s,” Letele said. “The parties have bought and sold content from and to each other for many years, and will continue to do so.”
However, SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini said in a statement on Thursday that the public broadcaster’s view is that the content of the minutes and the “reported statements of the various individuals identified underlines why the MultiChoice agreement and its related documentation was referred to the Special Investigating Unit for urgent investigation”.
“The SABC board distances itself from the alleged unlawful behaviour and reiterates its commitment to independence from both political and commercial interests. As required by the Broadcasting Act and our competition laws, the SABC cannot allow any competitor or commercial operator to interfere with and unduly influence SABC policy and commercial strategy,” Makhathini said.
“The MultiChoice agreement was first brought to parliament’s attention during the ad hoc committee’s inquiry into the SABC last year and, like the 2017 interim board before us, the SABC board and management will continue to cooperate with any investigation into the alleged wrongdoing that led up to the signing of the MultiChoice agreement.” — © 2017 NewsCentral Media