Carrim seeks consensus on digital TV

Communications minister Yunus Carrim is engaged in active discussions with warring broadcasters in the hope of reaching some sort of consensus on the use of encryption technology for digital terrestrial television. By Duncan McLeod.

Yunus Carrim

Yunus Carrim

Communications minister Yunus Carrim is continuing to engage with warring broadcasters over set-top box control for digital terrestrial television, but government will make a final decision within the next three to four weeks even if final consensus can’t be reached.

Carrim told parliament on Tuesday that the department of communications will keep negotiations open for “another three or four weeks” in the hope that greater consensus can be reached. “We don’t want to proceed without more consensus. We want everyone to work together on this thing,” he said.

At the heart of the matter is whether the set-top boxes that government intends subsidising for poorer households will contain a control system based on encryption. insists the control system is necessary to ensure the viability of free-to-air broadcasters in a market dominated by pay-television operator MultiChoice. It argues that it won’t be able to get access to the right quality of content to allow it to compete effectively if its broadcasts are sent over a system that is not encrypted.

However, MultiChoice, which owns DStv, is adamant that any subsidy of the boxes will amount to unfair competition, effectively subsidising the entry of new pay-TV competitors. has denied it plans to use the free-to-air boxes to launch a pay-TV platform in competition with DStv. South Africans have to purchase the boxes to continue to receive terrestrial broadcasts after digital migration has been completed.

The SABC, which was initially in favour of set-top box control, is now firmly opposed to the idea — to the extent that it recently held a joint press conference with MultiChoice to lambaste cabinet’s endorsement in December of encryption in government-subsidised boxes.

Carrim told parliament he is actively involved in meetings with the protagonists. “I’m actively involved now because the facilitators say it has to be a political settlement,” he said.

Cabinet adopted a policy on the set-top boxes in December. In terms of that policy, broadcasters are “free to decide if they want to use control or not”, Carrim said.

“My predecessor [Dina Pule] and I tried our level best to get them to agree. There is now no prospect of getting them to agree,” Carrim said of the warring camps.

The minister has hit out at those who argue a court judgment handed down in December 2012 in favour of prevents government from setting policy on set-top box control.

“We received legal opinion consistently … that the court judgment of December 2012 simply said it’s not for the ministry to say who the vendor or supplier of the control system should be, what the form of the control system should be, etc. But it didn’t say we couldn’t have a policy.”

Carrim said government policy on the issue is “not prescriptive, it’s open”, but that despite this there is still no consensus in the broadcasting industry.

“I am now actively involved in having one on ones with the parties involved in the interests of the country. We need to ensure mobile operators don’t say they don’t have access to spectrum. We need to benefit the poor. This is not an issue about broadcasters. This is about jobs. We need this … for economic growth reasons.”  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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  • Lumina SS

    Milk your job as much as you can minister, digital tv will never see the light in South Africa. The elections is close rather leave it for the new minister of communications after the 10th deadline. What a f???? joke this whole fiasco is!

  • Davebee

    CONSENSUS being of course a new word in ANC-speak for who gets the deal to rip off the South African public even more than before.
    I believe CONSENSUS is the thinking behind SANRAL handing out a juicy billions-of- Rands per year to a firm in Austria. (That local firms could do with ease)
    So there you go Mr. and Mrs. South Africa bend over, there’s another ANC consensus coming your way.
    Right after Pravin Gordhan increases the VAT rate to consensus another Blue Light convoy or six for more and more ANC drones to force you off the roads with.
    (They aint paying no eTolls either)

  • Vusumuzi Sibiya

    >> digital tv will never see the light in South Africa.

    Digital TV is most definitely an inevitable eventuality regardless of this whole fiasco. This article just confirms why Carrim is not suitable for this position. The time for reaching consensus expired ages ago and yet he’s still opting to waste another month on banging his head against a brick wall.

    What’s needed is decisive action one way or the other and then being prepared to deal with the repercussions of that decisive action… in one word “Leadership” which is a quality which Carrim has proven he does not have.

  • Lumina SS

    He lacks leadership in all regards, blah & blah too much. What has he achieved for the time his been in office? Join Zuma and enrich yourself, just as useless as his leader that elected him as minister of communication.

  • MuziMak

    ” At the heart of the matter is whether the set-top boxes that government intends subsidising for poorer households will contain a control system based on encryption.”

    CORRECTION: the ‘control system’ is meant for ALL set-top boxes used in SA, not just for government-subsidised ones.

  • Greg Mahlknecht

    Agreed.. When he took up the position, he didn’t know a thing about communications.. that would be OK if he took action once he got up to speed. His wanting to be “inclusive of industry” was encouraging, but it looks like he thinks that means batting his eyelids, saying “please” and hoping these bitter rivals will just recall their teams of lawyers and hug it out. Not going to happen.

  • Kobus

    So we will have a non-standard DVB-T2 standard… makes perfect sense to me..
    Set top boxes are one thing, they want to create a monopoly for 1 or 2 local manufacturers..
    What happens to dongles, car units and other applications, that are CHEAPLY available and conform to the standard???
    There are also DVB-T2 standards for CAM’s, but I get the feeling they are pushing for a unique-to-South Africa CA standard.. which of course artificially keeps the price high…

  • Marcan

    The main thing that should happen is the total scrapping of Gov’s involvement in manufacturing and subsidising the 4 or 5 million STBs for the poor. The subsidy will probably easily amount to 4-6 Billion rands. Absolutely not a core function of any Government, especially here in SA, where authorities struggle with all kind of basic infrastructure as schools, hospitals and roads.
    The FTA signal of all channels should remain totally unencrypted, and broadcasters as Etv can market their own decoders if if they wish so.

  • Vusumuzi Sibiya

    This would be the most sensible move going forward under the circumstances, given that either way, court action from some party is unavoidable.

    Someone with real “Leadership” would already be lobbying all key players against the “Weakest Link” and it should be relatively easy to gain the support of such stakeholders as mobile networks and broadband players affected by this stand-off.

    Legal battles can take decades and how long would the “Weakest Link” survive, in a lengthy battle that would only benefit lawyers, whilst dealing with new competition to their core business, the majority of consumers taking up all the cheaper digital TV options that will be available in the market; and a mobile broadband industry that would also be taking-off and beginning to thrive?

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