e.tv loses set-top box court case

Johannesburg - The Gauteng High Court has ruled against broadcaster e.tv in its challenge of government’s decision not to encrypt set-top boxes for digital broadcasts.

Judge WRC Prinsloo dismissed the case and ordered that the applicant e.tv pay costs of the respondents as well. The respondents include the likes of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.

In the judgment, which spans around 100 pages, Prinsloo said that he saw no basis for an argument that Muthambi misunderstood the effect of the encryption amendment.

"The minister stated that she studied and considered all the written submissions made, including those dealing with encryption," the judgment reads.

"She consulted a variety of role players," Prinsloo said.

Broadcaster e.tv’s application in the High Court sought to “review aspects of the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy finalised by the minister of Communications”.

Set-top boxes are set to decode digital television signals for analogue television sets when South Africa's broadcast migration process is completed.

In March, the Department of Communications amended the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy in its first provision to ensure that set-top boxes will not have the capabilities to encrypt broadcast signals for subsidised boxes for up to five million poorer households.

The Department of Communications also amended the policy in a second provision to include that an STB control system would also be non-mandatory.

e.tv, though, challenged this decision by asking that the first provision be set aside and that the second provision be amended.

At the time, e.tv highlighted that its reasoning for the challenge included that it wants to encrypt its signal to “prevent non-compliant STBs from receiving digital broadcast signals, thereby ensuring a uniform and reliable viewer experience”.

The company also said that “without a fully conformant platform, broadcasters such as e.tv would in the future likely be unable to provide broadcasts in high definition”.

e.tv’s loss in the case could open the way for South Africa’s digital migration process to start. The process has already been delayed by years and South Africa missed a key international digital migration deadline earlier this week.

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