S. Africa Paybox License Revised

JOHANNESBURG — Wide-ranging changes to the license of South African pay-TV station M-Net were published in the official Government Gazette at the weekend, drawing fire from all sides, especially pubcaster SABC.

The amendments include the imposition of a tax and new advertising and programming restrictions. But the pay station is allowed to keep its two-hour daily primetime “open window,” during which programming goes out unencoded and free-to-air.

The IBA on Thursday voted to extend M-Net’s open time and also agreed to allow the pay channel a maximum of 12 minutes of advertising an hour, which the SABC claims is about a third more than M-Net’s original license allowed.

During the open-time slot, M-Net would be required to broadcast 20% South African drama as well as three program genres that are broadcast during encoded time.

“This requirement is to ensure that the open window reflects the encoded service,” the IBA said in a statement.

The SABC warned it was considering legal action to have the decision of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) overturned.

The pubcaster as well as bidders for a new free-to-air station to be licensed later this year believe M-Net’s open window gives the pay channel an unfair advantage.

M-Net, while happy about keeping the open window, is angry that the IBA has slapped on an annual license fee of 2% of turnover.

If the ruling had applied to the financial year ending in March, M-Net would have had to pay 17.3 million rand ($3.8 million).

But the IBA has said that amendments with no financial implications will take effect at the end of August, while those relating to advertising, local content and fees take effect on April 1, 1999.

M-Net channel chief exec Lazarus Zim said the station had various concerns about the new conditions.

“While we take note that there is no intention to close open time, the proposed annual license fee will have an impact on our financial performance,” he said.

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