MultiChoice, the Association of Community Television South Africa (Act-SA) and the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronic Components (NAMEC) have accused communications minister Yunus Carrim of forming digital migration policy to benefit “certain narrow commercial interests”, accusations Carrim has called an “act of desperation” intended to influence voters in the upcoming national elections.
In a full page advertisement published in national newspaper the Sunday Times yesterday, MultiChoice, Act-SA and NAMEC said they have “serious reservations” about the policy decision to require an “unnecessary and expensive” control system to be included in all set top boxes for the digital migration, saying the requirement is opposed by almost all broadcasters, and will make the whole migration process more costly.
“We dispute this aspect of your policy and believe the costs greatly outweigh any supposed benefits,” the advert said.
“Your current proposals advance certain narrow commercial interests – rather than being in the interests of our nation.
“We appeal to you to allow free, unencrypted digital terrestrial television to launch without any further delay.”
Specifically, the group said consumers should not be forced to buy set-top boxes even if they have digital television sets – which do not require set-top boxes – while the decision will increase the cost of digital migration for free-to-air broadcasters.
Government will also see its costs hiked due to the ongoing need to subsidise set-top boxes for the poor in society “forever”, given that set-top boxes will always be required to access television services.
Carrim called the advert “astonishingly inaccurate” and said it contained the “same old, tired issues” which reflect the “fears of a huge monopoly about competition”.
“We can’t be constantly bullied. It is absurd that a monopoly that makes such huge profits in this country claims that it, not the ANC government, represents the country’s interests,” said the minister.
Carrim said dropping the control system would delay digital migration by a year, would open the government to legal claims by those broadcasters which want the control system, and would also subject the market to the possibility of cheap and low-quality imported set-top boxes.
Only broadcasters wishing to use the control system will be required to pay for it, and this cost need not be passed on to consumers, Carrim said.
“We think the advert is in poor taste and in bad faith. Negotiations are continuing among the parties – and out of the blue comes this advert! So where is the genuine commitment to find solutions? Publishing the advert, given the ongoing negotiations, it seems to us, is an act of desperation and designed to force government to buckle in,” said Carrim.
“The advert, on the eve of the elections, may also have the effect of mobilising middle class voters against the ANC government.”
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.