E.tv court win means longer delay in TV plan
Another blow to digital migration
SOUTH Africa’s much delayed digital broadcast migration process has been dealt another setback after e.tv was granted leave to appeal a ruling earlier this year dismissing its challenge to Communications Minister Faith Muthambi’s digital migration policy.
The free-to-air broadcaster had challenged the policy in which Muthambi expressly prohibited government- sponsored set-top boxes (STBs) from being enabled to allow for encryption, on the grounds she had exceeded her powers, failed to consult relevant stakeholders, and that her decision was irrational in that she had stated her aim with the policy was to give broadcasters the choice of whether or not to encrypt.
The broadcaster contended the effect of the policy was to prevent it from making use of encryption – considered necessary to combat pirating of content – because doing so would cut it off from the recipients of the government’s five million free STBs.
Giving reasons for the granting of leave to appeal yesterday, Pretoria High Court Judge Bill Prinsloo said the digital migration process would affect the vast majority in the country and was a matter of national importance.
Grounds for appeal involved an interpretation of the minister’s powers in terms of the Electronic Communications Act, and “when it comes to the interpretation of a document, such as a statute, there is a reasonable prospect that different courts may come to different conclusions”, Judge Prinsloo said.
Judge Prinsloo gave permission for e.tv to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
For the moment, this is unlikely to have any effect on the roll- out of STBs as the Universal Service and Access Agency has already placed orders for more than one million – without encryption capability.
However, should e. tv ultimately succeed in its appeal, it would result in a costly exercise to replace the STBs already made.
There would also be penalties to be paid to manufacturers who had bought parts for the unencrypted units, and a further delay in the process.
South Africa has agreed with neighbouring countries to a December deadline to roll out STBs in border areas that would be affected by signal interference, after it missed the June deadline to complete the migration process.
The Communications Department and e. tv were already in talks seeking an amicable solution after the broadcaster sought an urgent interdict to halt the manufacturing of unencrypted STBs, which it put on hold pending an agreement.
Spokesman for e.tv, Vasili Vass, said he was not aware of any progress in these discussions.
CRITICISED: Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.