Monday, February 22, 2016

South Africa's broadcasting regulator, Icasa, 'warned' over Infinity Media's application to make the Gupta TV channel ANN7 on DStv a free-to-air news channel.

South Africa's broadcasting regulator, Icasa is being "warned" over the application by the Gupta family and president Jacob Zuma's son for a commercial free-to-air TV licence through which it wants to make ANN7 (DStv 405) a freely available, national TV channel.

If approved by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), the channel - one of 4 possible new commercial free-to-air TV channels that could be licensed - will become the first new freely available commercial TV broadcasters since was licensed in 1998.

On Sunday City Press reported that a legal opinion sourced by the broadcasting regulator itself, advised that granting a new free-to-air commercial TV licence to Infinity Media Networks would be illegal since the company's foreign ownership is too large.

According to the legal opinion that the Mkhabela Huntley law firm gave to Icasa, Infinity Media Networks bid should be rejected since the company contravenes the foreign ownership clause in the Electronic Communications Act as it is 37,1% foreign-owned and controlled by Essel Media in India as a major shareholder.

The influential Gupta faimly and president Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma, are shareholders in Infinity Media Networks who has been supplying the ANN7 TV news channel to MultiChoice's DStv satellite pay-TV platform.

Infinity Media Networks wants to take ANN7 beyond DStv and make it a nationally available TV news channel to compete with the SABC's SABC News and's eNews.

The COPE political party in a statement says that "all opposition parties will keep a sharp lookout to see how Icasa is going to process the responses to the tender" for the highly prized free-to-air digital broadcasting licence.

"Infinity Media Networks, we learn, has ambitious plans to turn ANN7 into our country's primary news source. This might possibly have been the goal from the inception of ANN7 setting up operations," says Dennis Bloem, COPE spokesperson.

"Now that South Africa has witnessed how calamitous it is for the state or a state institution to argue lamely that it was an error of the law for failing to act correctly, Icasa must be warned to proceed within the very strictest confines of the law. If it acts in defiance of the law, serious consequences will follow."

"While Icasa is still considering all submissions and no decision has been taken, it should understand that the matter is now made public and all eyes are on Icasa."

"The fact that this licence will allow the licensee to reach as many as 12 million viewers will give it the same reach as the SABC and As such, the decision that Icasa takes must be rational and well thought out".