Johannesburg - Television company e.tv is heading to court to challenge a government decision on encryption for set top boxes.
The broadcaster says it is filing an application in the Gauteng High Court on Tuesday to “review aspects of the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy finalised by the Minister of Communications”.
Set top boxes (STB) will decode digital television signals for analogue TV sets. The government plans to subsidise boxes for five million poorer households when South Africa makes its switchover to digital television signals.
Last month, the Department of Communications made amendments to the Broadcasting Digital Migration policy. Amendments to the policy outlined that a STB control system for free-to-air DTT (Digital Terrestrial Television) boxes will not have capabilities to encrypt broadcast signals for subsidised boxes. A second amendment to the policy also included that the STB control system will be non-mandatory.
In its statement, e.tv has asked that the first provision be set aside and the second provision be amended.
“In one provision, the Minister (Faith Muthambi) purports to allow broadcasters the right to make their own decisions on the question of encryption," said e.tv’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Rosin in a statement.
“But in another adjacent provision, the Minister renders this right entirely nugatory and meaningless by stating that the five million government subsidised STBs shall not have the capability to encrypt,” added Rosin.
e.tv in its statement has further said 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”.
Political party the Democratic Alliance said last month that Muthambi’s decision could be the “death knell” of free-to-air broadcasters. DA Shadow Minister of Telecommunication and Postal Services, Marian Shinn, told Fin24 last month that the set-top-box encryption could protect free-to-air broadcasters from having their content illegally pirated.
This could prevent free-to-air broadcasters from adding high quality programming to their viewing selection.
Shinn also told Fin24 that encryption could ensure that devices would stop receiving signals if they are stolen.