Muthambi lashes out at Nzimande over digital TV

2016-06-21 11:50 - Gareth van Zyl, Fin24
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Faith Muthambi

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Johannesburg - Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has hit out at Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande over recent comments he made about digital television.

Nzimande, who also heads up the South African Communist Party (SACP), told Eyewitness News last week that Muthambi went against ANC policy on digital migration.

In 2015, Muthambi sided with the SABC and MultiChoice by altering policy to ensure that subsidised set-top boxes for 5 million poorer households would not be encrypted.

But broadcaster e.tv legally challenged this decision by saying that an unencrypted system would hinder the provision of high quality content while risking the piracy of content.

And last month, Bloemfontein’s Supreme Court of Appeal struck down Muthambi’s decision by saying it would force e.tv to fork out an extra R3bn to make encyrpted set-top boxes for the poorer households.

READ: e.tv wins key digital broadcast court battle

“It’s very unfortunate that it’s the SCA that must reinstate what was originally the position of the ANC,” Nzimande told Eyewitness News.

“We know that Naspers and Multichoice have been lobbying very hard, but I’m not saying it’s as a result of that lobbying that he has done that, but we know that they have been lobbying very very hard in order to keep their monopoly. That’s why monopolies are dangerous,” Nzimande added.

However, Muthambi has hit back at Nzimande’s comments by alleging that the matter of encryption has been misunderstood.

“To either expressly or by implication allege that Minister Muthambi has gone against the ANC policy on digital migration amendments is patently untrue,” said Muthambi’s office in a statement.

“Furthermore it is disingenuous and a veiled attack on the integrity of Minister Muthambi to seek to suggest that the Minister may have been successfully lobbied by any group of interested parties,” Muthambi’s office added.

READ: Why govt's TV box saga is hurting SA internet

Muthambi’s office said it’s unclear why Nzimande “singled out MultiChoice” as she claims that e.tv has also “been lobbying just as hard as have manufacturers and other entities in civil society.”

Muthambi, in the statement, further said that her position regarding encryption is that there will be a “control system to prevent the sale of government subsidised STBs” outside of South Africa.

Muthambi, though, didn’t explain what this control system entails exactly or how it differs from encryption, but she said that such a mechanism has been “put in place”.

“It is not the position of government to subsidise commercial players, by putting in place encryption for conditional access which is a pay TV technology.  

“Government and the policy has been very clear that if parties want to do this then it is at their own cost.

“It is unfortunate that the two types of encryption have been conveniently confused and conflated to undermine the Cabinet position and isolate Minister Muthambi,” said Muthambi’s office.

Meanwhile, South Africa risks falling behind the rest of the world on digital migration as the country missed a key International Telecommunications Union (ITU) deadline in June last year.

Government, though, started its subsidised set-top box roll-out in parts of the Northern Cape late last year while parts of Limpopo have been earmarked this year so far.

However, the telecoms industry has called for faster action on digital migration as the SABC is sitting on key frequencies that will be used for faster mobile broadband.