DIGITAL TV MIGRATION
MPs to consider probe into deal by MultiChoice
The pay-TV giant is battling claims it bought influence over government policy on encryption
Parliament would consider an inquiry into damaging allegations about MultiChoice’s conduct, chairman of the portfolio committee on communications Humphrey Maxegwana said.
The pay-TV giant is battling claims that it bought influence over government policy on encryption for its digital migration project by paying the SABC for a 24-hour news channel and access to archives. The public broadcaster could also not encrypt its channels when the country switched to digital TV.
"We can’t just leave the issues in the public domain. It needs to be discussed and a decision needs to be taken," Maxegwana told Business Day on Monday.
His comments followed calls from commentators such as Corruption Watch and the South African Communist Party (SACP) last week for an inquiry. MultiChoice was also accused of paying former Gupta-owned TV station ANN7 to host its news channel in exchange for influence in the government.
Last week, the DA released minutes of a high-level 2013 meeting at the SABC in which senior SABC and MultiChoice executives discussed the payment. Encryption allegedly threatened MultiChoice’s dominance in the pay-TV market.
The company has denied wrongdoing but has launched an inquiry.
SACP central executive committee member Yunus Carrim said the party "fully supports encryption. It’s about how far should business go when seeking to influence government policy. It has to be done within some sort of business ethics. You can lobby but you can’t buy government policy."
Carrim said on Friday that MultiChoice felt threatened by new emerging entrepreneurs in an industry that it controlled.
The agreement has been the subject of numerous inquiries, including by the public protector and currently by the Special Investigating Unit, which is reviewing all SABC contracts.
The Competition Commission wants to revive its investigation into the five-year agreement. Commission spokesman Sipho Ngwema said on Monday MultiChoice’s relationship with ANN7 was also under scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Lumko Mtimde, CEO of the Universal Service and Access Agency of SA, which has procured set-top boxes for the first 1.5-million households on behalf of the government, said production was continuing and completed by at least one service provider.
The government initially indicated it would subsidise about 5-million set-top boxes for poor households to convert signal from analogue TV to digital TV sets.
Mtimde said that the team under Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane was "working hard" to get registrations "from all the qualifying beneficiaries distributing and installing the set-top boxes".