Sentech loses high court battle
State-owned broadcast signal distribution company Sentech has lost a high court battle with e.tv sister company eBotswana over the piracy of television signals in Botswana.
This follows an application by eBotswana to the high court in Johannesburg against Sentech over the latter’s alleged failure to secure the encryption on its Vivid digital satellite platform.
eBotswana alleged that Sentech was not encrypting SABC channels broadcast to SA’s northern neighbour, leading to pirate viewing of the public broadcaster’s channels and damaging that country’s broadcasting sector. It alleged Sentech had done nothing to rectify Vivid’s security problems.
eBotswana GM Dave Coles last year estimated that about 70% of Botswana’s population was watching the pirated SABC channels. This, he said, was “seriously damaging growth in the local broadcast, production and advertising industries through the loss of potential advertising revenue”.
The court, which handed down judgment on Friday morning, has found in eBotswana’s favour, ruling that Sentech is “liable in delict for its failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent pirate viewing in Botswana” of SABC 1, 2 and 3. The court described the failure as “wrongful, negligent and in breach” of Sentech’s “duty of care” towards eBotswana.
The court has ordered Sentech to take “all reasonable steps necessary” to ensure that viewers in Botswana are prevented, within three months, from pirate viewing of the SABC channels carried on the Vivid platform. Sentech has the right to apply to the court for an extension provided it can show “good cause” why it such an extension would be justified.
Sentech may now face a damages claim from eBotswana. The quantum of damages will be determined in a separate process. eBotswana has been given 20 days to outline the damages “allegedly suffered by it as a result of [Sentech’s] failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent pirate viewing”, the judgement says.
In addition, Sentech has been ordered to pay eBotswana’s costs.
Vasili Vass, e.tv’s group head of corporate affairs, says eBotswana is “considering the order”. Sentech spokesman Nthabeleng Mokitimi could not immediately be reached for comment on her mobile phone. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral