Sunday, January 28, 2018

Broadcasting regulator Icasa confirms it will now investigate allegations of possible kickbacks and corruption over MultiChoice payments to ANN7 and the SABC and the possible influence on SA's digital terrestrial television encryption policy.

South Africa's broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), has confirmed that it will be launching a wide-ranging investigation into allegations of kickbacks and possible corruption into suspicious MultiChoice payments made to the SABC and to the controversial and until recently Gupta-owned ANN7 (DStv 405) channel.

Icasa has referred the complaint to its Compliance and Consumer Affairs division.

At issue is whether Naspers' pay-TV division illegally influenced the South African government's policy on encryption of set-top boxes (STBs) for the stalled digital migration process from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT), by paying the SABC and ANN7 to carry their channels, and through them, get them to apply pressure on the government.

Explosive, leaked meeting transcripts between MultiChoice and the South African public broadcaster the SABC, as well as #GuptaLeaks contracts between MultiChoice and the controversial ANN7 D(Stv 405) channel showing massive payments from DStv to the Guptas, have raised multiple serious questions over corporate impropriety.

MultiChoice told the SABC it would pay the broadcaster R100 million for the SABC News channel but but only on the strict must-have contract clause condition that the SABC must support MultiChoice's stance on conditional access (CA) for digital television.

MultiChoice also dramatically upped its payments from R50 million per year to R100 million per year and then R141 million per year, as well as a questionable, additional R25 million payment to the Guptas for the low-rated, bad quality, mistake-filled and often criticised ANN7.

MultiChoice is paying ANN7 more despite its barely there low ratings than eNCA (DStv 403) that has more than 50% of the overall TV news audience share.

It's all created the perception that MultiChoice has paid kickbacks to both the SABC and ANN7 to use its influence to get set-top box (STB) encryption dropped from government-subsidised STBs in the switch to digital terrestrial television (DTT).

MultiChoice and Naspers have denied the kickbacks allegations and the MultiChoice board announced that MultiChoice is starting an internal investigation of itself.

"Icasa has confirmed that it will be conducting an investigation into MultiChoice," says Phumzile Van Damme, the Democratic Alliance's shadow minister of communications and a member of parliament in a statement.

Phumzile Van Damme's statement comes after the political party publicly called out Icasa over its failure to start a wide-ranging investigation into the shocking MultiChoice allegations 8 weeks after the scandal broke. 

"The DA is pleased that Icasa has agreed that the payments require investigation. South Africa deserves to know whether the payments were indeed above board‚ as MultiChoice has maintained‚" says Phumzile Van Damme.

"While companies like MultiChoice should be allowed the space to do business and create much-needed employment‚ their conduct must at all times be within the bounds of the law‚ in line with business ethics and in an environment where competition was not stifled."

"There is no issue with companies lobbying for policy positions through debate‚ but a situation where policy is bought cannot be allowed. It is tantamount to policy capture."