The SABC’s decision to discard the idea of having an access control system for set-top boxes (STBs) was greeted with excitement in some quarters, and anger in others.
Media Workers Association of South Africa general secretary, Tuwani Gumani, said this “unexpected statement represents a rare glimpse or signs of an SABC regaining consciousness of its role as the premier provider of freely accessible public broadcasting services”.
But Democratic Alliance spokeswoman on communications, Marian Shinn, questioned how it was that acting COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng could take such a big decision without cabinet deciding on the matter.
“It is unacceptable that a public servant can unilaterally decide on government policy – and expose the SABC to potentially damaging legal challenges – before cabinet has decided on the matter.” Shinn said in a statement.
Shinn said Carrim had told media he would soon present the communications department’s recommendations of the digital migration policy review originally undertaken by former communications minister, Dina Pule.
“Minister Carrim must explain how this situation has evolved and the financial and reputational risks that the government is now exposed to,” Shinn says. “The minister must also account for the credibility blow this has delivered to the government’s strategy to boost the electronics industry’s capabilities through producing STBs with access control systems.”
The SABC said last week it was in the public broadcaster’s interests “that any subscription DTT Set Top Box (STB) is capable of also receiving the SABC free to Air (FTA) channels. In this case any DTT subscriber would not have to purchase an additional FTA STB in order to receive the SABC FTA DTT channels”.
GCEO Lulama Mokhobo said whatever the SABC did as a public service broadcaster, “we must ensure that it is in the interest of the public and we believe that having no conditional access will mean that no South African can ever be denied their right to access of broadcasting services in this country”.
Gumani said while this position was “consistent with the SABC’s age-old public mandate, it is the paradigm-shift, the repositioning of the SABC as ‘pro-poor’, ‘pro-rural access’ that is unexpected following consecutive years of almost eccentric decisions and posturing”.
He said as the SABC’s 24-hour news channel is on DSTV Channel 404 it was inaccessible to non-subscribers, “the majority of whom simply cannot afford subscription costs for a service that must be available free-to-air”.
But Shinn says the move is typical of controversial acting COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. “We need to know whether Mr Motsoeneng runs the Cabinet as well as the SABC, and whether Cabinet is contemplating any action against him,” she says.
Shinn referred to a July 2013 deal signed with MultiChoice by Motsoeneng. “The deal included a clause stating that, should SABC’s free-to-air channels be made available on the SABC DTT platforms on an encrypted basis, MultiChoice could cancel the R553 million due to SABC for airing its 24-hour news and entertainment channels on its platform.”
Carrim has yet to comment on recent developments relating to the STBs.