Broadcaster hopes to force new pay-TV operators to air and pay for its channels

Zweli Mokgata

Zweli Mokgata

The SABC will be forcing the five new pay television operators to pay for and air its channels if a submission to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is approved.

Although the SABC applied as one of the new operators of pay television licences, they responded to questions about the anti-competitive nature of the application by naming Sentech as the only applicant and the SABC as a shareholder.

At the last minute Sentech pulled out of contention for the Icasa licence, citing lack of sufficient funding, and the SABC this week announced a dramatic drop in profits.

The latest move by the SABC may be an attempt to raise funds following comments by chief executive officer Dali Mpofu that the public broadcaster was still reliant on commercial income. Must-carry, must-pay regulations in the new pay television licences would boost the public revenue stream by at least R7,2million, according to Multichoice chief executive officer Nolo Letele's comments in the Business Day newspaper on Wednesday.

On Digital Media, one of the successful applicants, said it was not willing to comply with a must-carry, must-pay clause in the conditions of the satellite and digital television broadcasting licence.

"It is of public interest for the public service channels (SABC1 and 2) to reach as many South Africans as possible," said On Digital Media head of regulatory affairs Dimitri Martinez. "But if we must carry, we don't want to pay a fee to the SABC. We are only willing to commercial transactions where we pay for packaged content that we request from them."

The SABC could not be reached for comment following the news of the discussion document released by Icasa this week.