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Multichoice clashes with SA government over digital switchover plans

DStv logoSouth Africa-based pay TV operator Multichoice has become embroiled in a war of words with the country’s government over the latter’s plans to include set-top box encryption as part of the migration to digital.

The latest development in an ongoing feud came after Multichoice published an advert last weekend, questioning the government’s digital switchover plans – which are already five years behind schedule.

Speaking on a South African talkshow, minister of communications Yunus Carrim accused Multichoice of attempting to mobilise middle-class consumers, saying “It’s odd that a private commercial company speaks on behalf of consumers from which it draws huge profits, and suggests that Multichoice represents the nation ‘s interests rather than the government.”

“If they really feel strongly about the consumer, why don’t they make pay TV cheaper?”

However, Multichoice hit back saying in a statement that it was “extremely disappointed at the response to date by the Minister of Communications to attempts by our company, black-owned electronics companies and the community TV sector to raise public awareness about the negative impact of the Department of Communications digital migration policy on the poor.”

Multichoice, along with the National Association of Manufacturers in Electronics Components (NAMEC) and the public service South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) argue in favour of unencrypted digital set-tops.

Multichoice said: “It is clear that, like everywhere else in the world, an unencrypted option is not only the best low-cost option in terms of initial outlay, but is cheaper in terms of ongoing costs to consumers.”

The NAMEC added in a separate statement that Conditional Access or other set-top box control will harm, rather than help black manufacturers, and increase the barrier for entry for these players.

The South African government is in favour of set-top encryption on the grounds that it will prevent cheap imports from flooding the country, support local manufacturing and create jobs.

“We are ready to move and we are pleading with the broadcasters even at this last hour, why don’t they come to an agreement. But if they don’t the government has to govern, and we have to move forward,” said Carrim.