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Industry body wants MultiChoice prosecuted over DTV ‘shenanigans’

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Industry body, the National Association for Manufacturers in Electronic Components (NAMEC), has launched a scathing attack on MultiChoice over accusations levelled against the company by former communications minister Yunus Carrim at the state capture inquiry.

Last month, Carrim dropped a bombshell at the Zondo Commission State Capture Inquiry, accusing the giant pay-TV operator of leading a sustained campaign in ensuring the digital terrestrial television (DTT) policy in relation to set-top boxes collapsed.

The former minister alleged the continental pay-TV operator bullied state broadcaster SABC into adopting a policy position which strengthened MultiChoice’s monopoly on broadcasting in SA.

Carrim told the Zondo Commission that the bone of contention was the government’s insistence on removing encryption on MultiChoice as part of digital migration to open up competition.

He alleged this was something Naspers group chairman Koos Bekker did not agree with, leading to a standoff between Carrim and MultiChoice.

Baseless accusations

However, MultiChoice strongly rejected the allegations, saying an unencrypted set-top box option has multiple benefits for South African television viewers.

Joe Heshu, MultiChoice group executive for corporate affairs, told ITWeb: “MultiChoice has noted that Yunus Carrim confirmed under oath in his submission to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry today that he cannot attest to having personal knowledge of any fraud or corruption in respect of the SABC/MultiChoice agreement.

“Carrim’s allegations concerning MultiChoice and some of its officials are baseless. MultiChoice and its officials deny these allegations. We have informed the Zondo Commission that we will respond to the allegations made against us in due course and reserve all of our rights.”

In a statement, NAMEC says it is neither shocked nor surprised by the revelations that MultiChoice was involved in the capture of the state.

The industry body says when giving testimony at the Zondo Commission, Carrim stated that MultiChoice executives and its parent company (Naspers) chairman bullied SABC to violate government policy of encryption of set top-boxes in favour of non-encryption.

“NAMEC finds the revelations extremely disturbing as it confirms our long-held suspicion that sinister forces were at play to stall the digital migration process to benefit themselves by further entrenching their monopoly in the digital television market and anyone including NAMEC that stood in their way will be corrupted, at best or decimated, at worst,” says Aubrey Tsaoane, NAMEC’s acting secretary general.

“We find MultiChoice (illegal) actions unpardonable and call on the law enforcement agencies and Zondo Commission to thoroughly investigate and bring to book all those implicate[d]. It cannot be that people conspire to subvert the state and bring harm to emerging companies particularly and our country’s economy and they go scot-free as this will cement a culture of impunity.”

Tsaoane adds: “As a country, we have missed not only the International Telecommunication Union deadline for digital migration of 2015 but also our self-imposed deadline of June 2019.

“We are also running a risk of missing the July 2020 deadline if urgent steps are not taken to accelerate digital migration. It is common cause that the stalling of the migration process has led to our country not benefiting from the developments in the information and communications technologies space.”

Financial ramifications

Tsaoane points out that opportunities abounding due to the advent of the fourth industrial revolution have also not being adequately seized as the country is lagging far behind, all thanks to the shenanigans of MultiChoice and those who assisted them.

“There has to be accountability for the destruction to our economy and subversion of our state by Naspers, MultiChoice and their co-conspirators,” Tsaoane continues.

“As NAMEC, we are intensifying our efforts to nudge law enforcement agencies to act while preparing ourselves for an appearance at the Zondo Commission and initiating class-action for the financial and other losses our members incurred,” Tsaoane continued.

“We call on all South Africans who can shed more light on the criminal activities of stalling the digital migration process by MultiChoice and its bedfellows to come forward and present evidence to the relevant authorities as their patriotic actions will contribute in no small measure to ensuring those implicated are brought to book,” Tsaoane concludes.

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