Politicos vow to end monopoly in S. Africa

Broadcasting Act to be amended this year

JOHANNESBURG — The African National Congress government is set to bust the monopoly in South Africa’s pay TV market.

South African Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri will amend the Broadcasting Act this year to pave the way for one or more rivals to incumbent paybox Multichoice. Multichoice, the Naspers-owned pay TV group, has 1 million subscribers and broadcasts through analog subscription service M-Net and digital satellite subscription service DSTV.

Regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has long wanted to introduce competition.

Icasa broadcasting policy manager Violet Leseri said the authority wanted to open the door to cable television as well as the MMDS system, popular in Ireland, which could be used to cover a small area and would be suitable for developing community television in South Africa.

Ownership cap

Leseri said ownership regulations were also an issue. Foreign investors are restricted to a 20% stake in an operator, limiting interest from international satellite players.

Matsepe-Casaburri introduced the pay TV legislation in Parliament during the budget debate earlier this month.

During the debate, the government went on to criticize the South Africa Broadcasting Corp. for falling short of its mandate as a public broadcaster.

Communications committee chairman Nat Kekane said the ANC was concerned about SABC’s entertainment bias. A better balance was required between education, information and entertainment, using more African languages.

“We would like to see more current affairs programs so that the SABC becomes a platform for citizens to participate in discussions about their lives,” Kekane added. “We need to tell world news from a South African perspective, independent of the CNN and BBC angle of doom and gloom in Africa.”

Kekane said a lot of work had been done since 1994 to turn the corporation into a pubcaster South Africans could identify with and be proud of. However, the task of “appeasing advertisers and attracting audiences while delivering quality programs that educate is an onerous one.”

Matsepe-Casaburri said discussions were under way with the SABC to develop editorial policies for news and programming to cover issues of content, accuracy and impartiality.

She confirmed that the division of the SABC into public and commercial services would take place this year, while regional services would be expanded to address language diversity.