Former South Africa communications minister Yunus Carrim has blamed pay TV company MultiChoice for the slow progress of the country’s migration to digital.
In his testimony to SA’s Zondo Commission, an ongoing judicial inquiry into political corruption, Carrim claimed a hefty R553m (US$35m) deal between MultiChoice and pubcaster SABC was intended to ensure the latter’s support in the pay TV giant’s anti-encryption strategy.
MultiChoice has long been opposed to signal encryption, and Carrim said this was because it would make it easier for rivals like E.tv to enter the African pay TV market and compete with its DStv pay service.
To prevent that from happening, the company inserted a clause into its SABC agreement that ensured the public broadcaster followed its stance on encryption, according to Carrim.
The former communications minister said MultiChoice’s then CEO, Imtiaz Patel, made it clear that the clause was a deal-breaker.
“This, for me, is a very clear example of regulatory or policy capture whereby irregular means are used to shape government policy. There is absolutely no reason to include, in a commercial transaction between the SABC and DStv, a clause which deals with government policy on encryption,” Carrim said.
“Lobbying by MultiChoice was very primitive. Very backward. It is not consistent with the social democracy we are. It has caused a huge setback to the digital migration process. It suits them because they can retain their monopoly.
“The delay in digital migration and the subsequent allocation of valuable new spectrum to operators is costing South Africa dearly.”
In response, Joe Heshu, MultiChoice group executive for corporate affairs, said Carrim’s allegations were baseless.
“MultiChoice and its officials deny these allegations. Carrim confirmed under oath that he cannot attest to having personal knowledge of any fraud or corruption in respect of the SABC/MultiChoice agreement.
“We have informed the Zondo Commission that we will respond to the allegations made against us in due course and reserve all of our rights.”