Wednesday, June 15, 2016

DStv fined almost R1 million in Sierra Leone over subscription fee price hike; only has a week to pay; slammed by regulator for 'unfairly profiteering' from subscribers.

MultiChoice has been fined a massive R968 000 (Le250 million / $63 335) in Sierra Leone by that country's broadcasting regulator after it has been found guilty of overcharging DStv subscribers - and has only one week to pay it.

The shocking fine imposed on the satellite pay-TV operator through its Sierra Leone agent Transnational Sierra Leone Limited, comes as aggressive African broadcasting regulators in several nations the past few months have started to bare their fangs at especially subscription television services.

Nigeria's broadcasting regulator - the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), that has seen several allegations of corruption leveled against it - has twice in the past few months slammed MultiChoice and ordered shows banned, impacting the entire continent.

MultiChoice and Discovery Networks International first had to censor the show I Am Jazz on TLC Entertainment (DStv 135) in October 2015 and yank it from the schedule shortly before it was due to start, and last month NBC forced MultiChoice and NBCUniversal International Networks to immediately remove all remaining episodes of I Am Cait from E! Entertainment (DStv 124).

Since both TLC Entertainment and E! Entertainment only have one channel feed into Africa, the Nigerian regulator's censorship means a blackout of the shows for DStv subscribers across the entire Africa, including South Africa.

Meanwhile the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) in January this year threatened to ban and block Netflix in Kenya since the video-on-demand (VOD) streaming's service arrival in Africa at the beginning of this year, slamming Netflix as "a threat to our moral values and national security".

Now Sierra Leone's National Telecommunication Commission (NATCOM) has found Transnational Sierra Leone Limited, the company that's the sole agent to represent MultiChoice Africa in Sierra Leone, guilty of apparently indiscriminately overcharging DStv subscribers in the West African country.

With DStv the dominant pay-TV service in Sierra Leone, Transnational Sierra Leone said DStv subscriptions had to increase given the weakening of the Sierra Leonean Leone against the dollar - the currency MultiChoice acquires most of its TV content in that's shown on DStv.

Transnational Sierra Leone Limited told NATCOM that DStv subscription fee increases come from South Africa and is made in relation to international currency fluctuations.

NATCOM gave the pay-TV operator just one week to pay the fine or said it will be shut down.

Momoh Conteh, NATCOM chairperson told APANews that "If you are doing business and want to maximize profit, fine. But you can't do it at the expense of the people".

According to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation, DStv was fined for "unfairly profiteering to the disadvantage of customers" and that the "decision was as a result of defiance by the management of DStv to review its rates".

NATCOM warned in a letter in mid-May that the DStv subscription increase that happened at the beginning of May was "unilateral and unacceptable" since it wasn't done in consultation with the regulator.

MultiChoice Africa tells TV with Thinus in response to a media enquiry that the fine is being disputed through regulatory channels.

"MultiChoice and its agent in Sierra Leone, Transnational Limited, learnt through the media of the fine imposed on Transnational by Sierra Leone's National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM) for the adjustment of the subscription fee in Sierra Leone to reflect the increase in the rate of exchange between the Leone and the US Dollar".

"Transnational is disputing the basis of the fine as subscriptions are charged in United States dollar ($) and there has been no increase in the price of the DStv service."

"Transnational is liaising with NATCOM to resolve this matter through the relevant legal and regulatory processes."