The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has challenged MultiChoice and other pay-TV broadcasters to negotiate a new commercial contract with the public broadcaster, to allow SABC channels on their platform.
Late last week, the regulator announced the adjustments to the “must-carry” regulations, indicating that pay-TV broadcasters with more than 29 channels must carry SABC programmes.
The regulations had permitted MultiChoice and other pay-TV broadcasters to carry SABC channels at no expense.
However, the newly amended regulation stipulates that the broadcasters must discuss a new agreement suitable for all.
The public broadcaster stated that the must-carry regulations were biased and that pay-TV broadcasters were taking advantage of the matter, leading to their financial woes.
After the public broadcasters protested against the revised regulations with ICASA, the regulator agreed in 2019 to conduct an investigation.
According to the SABC, MultiChoice was getting free momentum, indicating that most programmes viewed on the pay-TV platform were those of the SABC – a statement MultiChoice has denied.
The SABC noted that amendments to the regulations were needed, being that the Electronic Communications Act states that ICASA should “protect the integrity and viability of public broadcasting services”.
The SABC indicated that on 1 April 2011, the public broadcaster entered into a must-carry channel distribution agreement with MultiChoice Group based on the questionable 2008 regulation that guaranteed non-payment for the SABC’s three must-carry television channels.
“The regulation, at the time, was drafted because the must-carry task seemed difficult for the pay-TV licensees to carry, indicating that pay-TV operators are acting in the best interest of the public broadcasting. However, MutliChoice and other operators have financially gained from the SABC must-carry channels at the expense of the public broadcaster,” mentioned the SABC.
The amended regulation indicated, “The PBS licensee (the SABC) must offer its television programmes, subject to commercially negotiable terms, to the SBS licensee (MultiChoice and others) upon a request from the SBS licensee.”
Recently ICASA published a reasons document with the amended regulations, noting that the changes it made were because “payment, if any, regarding the transmission of must-carry channels must be negotiated.”
The regulator, however, indicated that it does not have the mandate to stipulate costs related to must carry as the negotiable terms are commercial.
Within three months of the concluded date, the public broadcaster must provide pay-TV operators with “commercially negotiable terms”.