Saturday, November 7, 2015
e.tv heading to the Supreme Court of Appeal over South African government's policy of non-encryption of set-top boxes for digital terrestrial television (DTT).
Free-to-air commercial broadcaster e.tv is now heading to South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal over the country's controversial policy of non-encryption for set-top boxes (STBs) for digital terrestrial television (DTT).
It's just one of the myriad of controversial issues delaying and likely to further delay the controversial and long-delayed switch from analogue to DTT broadcasting, a process known as digital migration and which is years behind schedule and fraught with in-fighting over several issues.
The Sabido run broadcaster is fighting against the department of communication's decision that there will be no compulsory encryption in the STBs that South African households will have to buy for hundreds of rands or lose their TV signals.
MultiChoice, M-Net, the SABC and community TV stations are against encryption of digital TV signals, saying encryption and an encryption system will make STBs even more expensive for ordinary and poor South African TV households.
In March this year the embattled minister of communications, Faith Muthambi, suddenly gazetted a changed DTT policy as South Africa's government suddenly switched from an earlier cabinet decision saying STBs would contain a built-in encryption system and STB control, to it no longer being mandatory.
e.tv argues that it won't be able to get access to premium TV content from suppliers without a mandatory encryption system built into STBs and won't be able to offer TV content in high definition (HD).
On Friday the Pretoria High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo granted e.tv leave to appeal the government's decision on so-called STB control.
It means yet another clash for the beleaguered Faith Muthambi, in South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal where the court was last month asked to rule in a case over whether the SABC should be forced to have a disciplinary hearing for the public broadcaster's famously matricless chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng, along with implications over her appointment of him as the permanent COO at the SABC.
"The broadcasting digital migration process is something that directly affects the vast majority of people in this country‚" said Judge Bill Prinsloo in referring the case to the Supreme Court of Appeal. "It is a matter of national importance".
The granted leave for appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal is yet another setback for the incompetent South African government's DTT process.
On 17 June the South African government missed the internationally agreed ITU deadline for the switch-off of analogue TV signals - the country hasn't even started the proper switch-on commercial process of digital migration which takes years to complete before switch-off can happen - a period known as "dual illumination".
The DTT process in the country has been fraught with delays, bickering, in-fighting, scandal and ongoing controversy over everything - ranging from the helpless South African Post Office's involvement to distribute STBs, dodgy STB tenders and a secret tender process, controversy over what households qualify for subsidies, too little money for subsidies, tepid registration for STBs, millions of South Africans who know nothing about the looming switch and no operational national call centre or education and public awareness campaign, and constantly changing broadcasting standards.
Meanwhile the Universal Service and Access Agency has already placed an order for more than one million STBs without mandatory encryption which will be distributed to poor households.
e.tv's appeal to the Supreme Court will further delay the switch to digital television migration. If e.tv succeeds, it will be a huge embarrassment for South Africa's TV industry, Faith Muthambi and the South African government, and a further setback in the DTT process.
It will lead to penalties for STB manufacturers, and costly replacements of STBs that manufacturers will have to change on the factory floor.
In the very least it will further delay the process already delayed and off course in South Africa for almost a decade.