Digital migration policy could put eTV out of business: DA

By Marian Shinn

The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, to appear before Parliament to account for the dubious last minute substantive edits to the Broadcast Digital Migration (BDM) policy that was gazetted last night and is markedly different from the BDM policy that was approved by Cabinet in 2013.

 The DA is concerned about the revisions in definitions by Minister Muthambi at the eleventh hour. Her ill-intentioned decision will stifle competition in the free-to-air market and has the potential to put eTV out of business while entrenching MultiChoice’s monopoly in the pay TV market and guaranteeing the SABC’s dominance in the free-to-air space.According to the gazette, “the STB control system for the free-to-air DTT STBs shall – (a) not have capabilities to encrypt broadcast signals for the subsidised STBs; and (b) be used to protect government investment in subsidised STB market thus supporting the local electronic manufacturing sector.”

These changes made by Minister Muthambi are not in the best interest of the industry and the South African viewer alike and raises suspicions about her reasons for going against her own Cabinet and making these definitional changes at the last minute. The only logical conclusion one can draw from this move by the Minister is that she has an inappropriate relationship with MultiChoice and is attempting to solidify MultiChoice’s monopoly in the pay TV sector.

Minister Muthambi must appear before a joint sitting of the communications and telecommunications and postal services portfolio committees to explain her actions and the impact these will have on South Africa’s television sector. At a recent joint portfolio committee on progress in the DTT transition her officials could not engage on political decisions and fudged explanations on the issue.

There has been no further engagement with the sector since her predecessor, Yunus Carrim’s final negotiations on the policy dating back to early 2014. Indeed Minister Muthambi has, throughout her involvement in this process, acted unilaterally and without impunity exerting undue political influence at every turn.

Failing Minister Muthambi’s explanation to Parliament, I will write to the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, requesting she act, as the authority on Executive abuses of power, and investigate any violations of the Executive Ethics Act.

If the DA finds Muthambi’s responses to Parliament unsatisfactory we will ask the Public Protector to investigate potential abuses of power.

The DA will continue to hold the Minister to account to ensure that she implements the BDM policy following thorough consultation on matters that will affect broadcast content of millions of South Africans.

  • Marian Shinn is a Shadow Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services

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