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DA slams Nyanda's digital TV dance

Read time 4min 10sec

Communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda has repeated his statement that no firm decision has been taken to change digital TV standards.

However, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) questions why this issue is being contemplated.

SA is converting its 35-year-old analogue broadcasting system to a digital format. It is obliged by its signing of the International Telecommunications Union agreement of 2006 to complete the process by 2015.

Furthermore, Cabinet agreed in 2008 that the dual-illumination period - during which both analogue and digital signals are transmitted - would end in November 2011. Cabinet also agreed the standard used would be the “European”-developed Digital Video Broadband - Terrestrial (DVB-T).

In line with that decision, national signal distributor Sentech has already installed transmitters for the DVB-T system, covering about 40% of the country's population. The South African Broadcasting Corporation and its private sector counterparts, such as e.tv and MultiChoice, have begun converting their systems to the standard.

Last month, the Department of Communications (DOC) held a broadcasting colloquium where it indicated it was considering a change from DVB-T to a Japanese system that has been modified in Brazil and is called Integrated Services Digital Broadband - Terrestrial (ISDB-T). This gathering was held shortly after a visit to Brazil by a team including members of the DOC, Sentech and the Independent Communications Authority of SA.

Nyanda described this system to Parliament's communications committee earlier this week as being “open source”, because it could be altered to meet a country's requirements, although he admitted there was little technical difference between the two.

A statement issued by Nyanda's office yesterday repeats an assertion he made before the committee that no final decision had been taken. It reiterates that a task team is being set up to investigate which system would offer the best benefits, especially on a cost basis.

He says a recent meeting by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) ICT ministers resolved to set up a task team to investigate the issue and to determine which standard would best suit the region.

“The brief of the task team would also include looking at the socio-economic benefits for the SADC region, and also establish the extent of industry's investment up to date,” Nyanda notes.

Machiavellian streak

Nyanda attacked media reports that appeared to insinuate that a decision had already been taken to change to the ISDB-T standard.

“These perceptions, being fostered largely by individuals or groups who prefer one standard over the other, are not based on any fact, but are mischievous and Machiavellian,” Nyanda says in his statement.

However, Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA national spokesperson, says Nyanda's statement styles the department's reconsideration of the digital TV standard as an investigation that will lead to a “cost-benefit analysis” of the DVB-T and ISDB-T standards.

“But, as with his presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Communications, on Tuesday, he has once again failed to give any concrete explanation of why the DOC is even considering a switch at this late stage, and when all industry accounts point to the fact that the DVB-T platform offers superior technology.”

Mazibuko says this is coupled with the lobbying of the Japanese and Brazilian governments that had now been made public, as well as the trip taken to Brazil by the DOC to “investigate” the ISDB-T option.

“Prior to this re-think, as well as the recent public statement by the Brazilian president to the effect that he looks forward to Brazil and South Africa's common digital TV platform - all of these factors point to the likelihood that the department is leaning seriously in the direction of ISDB-T, even as the more detailed analysis offered by those in the industry points decisively to DVB-T as being superior.”

Mazibuko adds that it is not enough to just know the benefits of one system versus another, but rather the overwhelming reasons as to why another system is being considered at this late stage.

“In the absence of such an explanation, and given the lobbying factors mentioned above, we cannot ignore the possibility that there are nefarious factors at play in this sudden decision to consider switching to ISDB-T.”

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille has submitted parliamentary questions to Nyanda about the Brazil visit, including who went and who carried the cost.

“We in the opposition will support an initiative to bring the proposals from both sides represented at the DOC summit earlier this year before Parliament (especially given that the presentation at the summit was very one-sided), so that we can gain a better understanding of the issues involved in this matter,” Mazibuko comments.

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