The SABC wants DStv parent MultiChoice to pay to carry its channels on its pay-television platform. Until now, the Naspers-owned broadcaster has been able to offer the channels free of charge in terms of so-called “must-carry” regulations.
The public broadcaster has written to communications regulator Icasa asking it to conduct an urgent review of the regulations that allow MultiChoice and others to carry SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 at no cost. The regulations were introduced in 2008.
“Contrary to the enabling legislation, which provides for ‘commercial negotiations’ between the parties, the regulations state the SABC ‘must offer its television programmes at no cost’ to subscription broadcasters,” the SABC said on Wednesday.
In the letter to Icasa, SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini said that the must-carry regulations have “had a serious impact on the SABC from a potential revenue point of view”. They effectively “zero-rate” the three SABC channels and have created a “precedent-setting, non-commercial negotiating environment”.
The regulations seemed to have been drafted on the basis that the must-carry obligation was an onerous one for subscription broadcasters and that these broadcasters would be doing the public broadcaster a favour by carrying its channels as part of a subscription television bouquet, Makhathini said.
“The SABC will demonstrate in the public process that, on the contrary, the SABC must-carry channels have commercially benefited MultiChoice Africa at the expense of the public broadcaster.”
Makhathini said the SABC channels are among the most watched on DStv.
“It is the SABC’s view that the 2008 regulations have unfortunately failed to protect the viability of the public broadcaster and it is on this basis that we submit that the authority (Icasa) should urgently commence a separate, public regulatory process to review the must-carry regulations.”
However, Icasa said on Wednesday that it has no immediate plans to review the regulations.
“In developing any regulations, Icasa is required by law to follow a prescribed and detailed process in line with principles of administrative justice and fairness,” it said.
“The process must involve engagement of all stakeholders through public consultation to afford all affected and impacted parties an opportunity to be heard. The same process was followed during the development and implementation of the current must-carry regulations, and the SABC participated fully in that process,” Icasa added.
“In this regard, the review of the must-carry regulations is not in the plan for the current financial year. Therefore the SABC’s request for this review can only be considered in line with the authority’s future planned programmes of performance and delivery of its mandate.”
MultiChoice said in e-mailed comments to TechCentral later on Wednesday that it doesn’t agree with the SABC that the must-carry regulations have failed to protect the integrity and viability of public broadcasting services, or that MultiChoice has commercially benefited from therRegulations at the expense of the public broadcaster.
“The regulations had great benefit to the public broadcaster and the public at large as SABC channels were made available nationwide on all pay-television platforms, including on DStv, to fulfil the SABC’s universal access mandate,” it said.
“The regulations were debated extensively during the integrated ICT white paper review process. The draft white paper on audiovisual and content services is currently before cabinet. It addresses, among other issues, the must-carry regulations and the funding of the public broadcaster.
“We believe this matter should be dealt with in this policy process. The white paper process will most likely consider the changing nature of television and whether new over-the-top operators should also be subject to regulation, including must-carry regulations.
“We believe any stakeholder, including the SABC, that does not agree with Icasa or think the authority acted outside of its powers, can have the process reviewed through the courts. The SABC chose not to do so when the regulations were made nine years ago.” — (c) 2017 NewsCentral Media
- The SABC’s letter to Icasa is available here (PDF); MultiChoice’s letter to Icasa is available here (PDF)