MultiChoice slams Icasa over probe

MultiChoice says communications regulator Icasa’s complaint to the Competition Commission is “completely without foundation” and that the communications regulator must desist from “undue interference” in its affairs. By Duncan McLeod.

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MultiChoice has criticised communications regulator Icasa over its decision to ask the Competition Commission to probe a “possible restrictive horizontal practice” between it and the SABC over the supply by the public broadcaster of a 24-hour news channel.

“The agreement between MultiChoice and the SABC is a commercial channel distribution agreement. A clause in that agreement requires the SABC to broadcast its free-to-air channels unencrypted. This does not constitute a restrictive horizontal practice,” MultiChoice said in response to a query from TechCentral. “The complaint is completely without foundation.”

TechCentral, working in conjunction with the Sunday Times, revealed last year that the agreement contains an obligation preventing the SABC from offering its free-to-air channels on any digital terrestrial TV system that uses encryption. MultiChoice is engaged in a high-stakes battle with e.tv over whether the set-top boxes that South African consumers will need to receive digital TV should contain a control system capable of encrypting free-to-air broadcasts.

MultiChoice claims that such a system, assented to by government, would amount to an unfair subsidy for prospective rivals in South Africa’s pay-TV industry. It has clashed publicly with communications minister Yunus Carrim, accusing the minister of pandering to “narrow commercial interests” (read: e.tv) in recommending to cabinet that a control system be included in digital set-top boxes. This prompted a strong backlash from Carrim, who accused MultiChoice of being a bullying monopoly.

Earlier on Wednesday Icasa said: “In the context of the ongoing public dispute between e.tv and MultiChoice over whether free-to-air TV services should utilise set-top-box control, the question arises as to whether the agreement between the SABC and MultiChoice, as it affects the issue of set-top-box control, may constitute a form of restrictive horizontal practice in the television market.”

Icasa said it had requested both the SABC and MultiChoice to provide a copy of the agreement, but that both parties failed to honour that request.

But MultiChoice said it is under no legal obligation to make its agreement with the SABC available to Icasa. “In fact, Icasa is required in terms of the Electronic Communications Act to refrain from undue interference in the commercial activities of licensees.”  — (c) 2014 NewsCentral Media

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