SABC wants to cash in on pay TV viewers

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The cash-strapped SABC wants pay-TV broadcasters to pay for carrying its three free-to-air channels on its platforms.

Newly appointed chairman of the public broadcaster, Bongumusa Makhathini, has this week written to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) requesting an urgent public review of regulations that allow MultiChoice and other subscription broadcasters such as e.Sat and Starsat to carry SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 for free.

The SABC would like Icasa to amend regulations and allow it to negotiate and charge fees for its three channels to be carried on other platforms.

Regulations termed as "Must Carry Regulations" that were gazetted in October 2008, stipulated that the channels have to be offered at no cost. However, the SABC would like them to be offered on "commercially negotiable terms".

In a letter to the acting chairman of Icasa, Paris Mashile, dated November 21, Makhathini stated: "The focus of this submission - the Must Carry Regulations has had a serious impact on the SABC from a potential revenue point of view."

Makhathini said the public broadcaster was currently facing a "very real threat" to its financial stability.

"It is the SABC's view that the 2008 regulations have unfortunately failed to protect the viability of the public broadcaster, and it's on this basis that we submit that the authority should urgently commence a separate, public regulatory process to review the Must Carry Regulations," wrote Makhathini.

He argued that when the regulations were gazetted, it seemed pay-TV broadcasters were "doing the public broadcaster a favour" by carrying the channels.

"The SABC will demonstrate in the public process that, on the contrary, the SABC Must Carry Channels have commercially benefited MultiChoice Africa at the expense of the public broadcaster," he wrote.

Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka said the review of the Must Carry Regulations was not in the pipeline for this year. 

He said the process of amending the regulations "must involve engagement of all stakeholders through public consultation to afford all affected and impacted parties an opportunity to be heard".

SABC general manager for regulatory affairs Philly Moilwa said: "Our wish is that it [the amendments] could happen speedily, but we can't dictate to the regulator ... we are simply raising this matter as one of the issues that negatively impact on the SABC."

MultiChoice's Marietjie Groenewald said they would comment on this matter once they were ready.

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