Democratic Alliance MP and shadow communications minister Marian Shinn has decried communications minister Dina Pule’s decision to seek leave to appeal a high court judgment handed down in December that found in favour of e.tv over digital broadcasting, warning that the move will delay South Africa’s migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.
The high court ruled that Pule’s decision to end a previous arrangement whereby e.tv and the SABC would manage the conditional access system for digital terrestrial television and to hand the business to Sentech was unlawful.
“This appeal will further delay progress towards South Africa’s migration to digital terrestrial television by the mid-2015 deadline, as the minister is declining to name the selected manufacturers for set-top boxes until this issue is settled,” Shinn says. Government is subsidising about 5m of the boxes for poorer households and wants to use the programme to encourage local manufacturers.
Assuming the appeal takes roughly a year to settle, Shinn says it will take “many more months before the successful set-top box manufacturers are chosen and are able to start planning for production”.
“It will then take another six to nine months before the set-top boxes are ready for retail. This means than the majority of South Africans are unlikely to have set-top boxes to enable them to watch high-quality digital television before the country is obliged to switch off its analogue broadcasting signals.”
Rather than prolonging the legal battle, Shinn says the minister should instead focus her department’s skills and resources “on developing and delivering the numerous projects necessary for the manufacture of set-top boxes”.
Furthermore, the department of communications needs to provide details about the quantity and costs of the set-top subsidy programme for poorer households as well as the logistics, funding and resources needed to market, install and support the subsidy programme.
Shinn calls the decision to seek leave to appeal the “second major bureaucratic setback” to digital migration in the space of three years.
In 2010, under former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda, the migration process was stalled when the department reassessed government’s original decision to adopt the European digital broadcasting standard and instead investigated a Japanese-Brazilian alternative. The department later reverted to the European standard, albeit the second version.
“I will request that the portfolio committee call the minister to explain her actions and the negative impact this will have in rolling out our much delayed migration to digital terrestrial television,” Shinn says.
South Africa is meant to complete its migration by no later than mid-2015 if it’s to meet a deadline set down by the International Telecommunication Union. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media