Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
- South Africa’s communications minister has welcomed a court ruling dismissing a bid to delay SA switch from analogue to digital TV.
- Broadcaster e.tv had argued that too few poor households had received set-top boxes to view digital television.
- While the court dismissed e.tv’s challenge, it also ruled that the switch-off date be postponed by three months.
Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has said she is “elated” by a court ruling dismissing a challenge by broadcaster e.tv to rethink SA’s switchover from analogue to digital TV.
On Monday, the High Court in Pretoria ruled that e.tv had not shown that the minister erred in setting a deadline for the switchover or that government failed to help poor households access decoders.
South Africa is nearing the endpoint in a phased switch-off of analogue television transmitters, a process that was initially supposed to have wrapped up over a decade ago. Once analogue transmitters have been switched off, viewers will generally need a set-top box to watch TV.
The court did, however, extend the very “ambitious and tight” switch-off deadline by three months from the end of March to end-June to give the state more time to install around 500 000 decoders.
E.tv said it was consideration its legal options in a short statement.
The broadcaster was ordered to pay to pay 50% of the minister’s legal costs, and the full legal bill of two other respondents in the case, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and Vodacom.
Ntshavheni urged e.tv and its co-applicants Media Monitoring Africa and SOS Support Public Broadcasting to “desist from further attempts to derail the process of digital migration”.
E.tv had argued that the government had not provided enough help to poor South Africans to access decoders. It said that 2.5 million households, representing about 8 million South Africans, would be left without access to television once the deadline passed.
It also wanted the court to compel Ntshavheni to consult with it and other parties before setting the switch-off date.
Public broadcaster the SABC had also appealed for the switch-off deadline to be extended, saying it puts its turnaround plan in jeopardy. The SABC was not, however party to the court case.
Households must apply
Ntshavheni said she “welcomes” the three-month postponement to give authorities more time to install decoders for members of the public who had applied for help.
She added that the ruling affirmed her view that the state does not have a duty to assist every South African household to access a set-top box.
“Government has a responsibility to assist only households that register and fulfil requirements for government assistance,” she said.
She urged all South Africans who earn less than R3 500 per month to register for government assistance at their nearest post office or online at www.stbregistration.gov.za.
She said it would be “unreasonable” for the fact that some households had not applied for set-top boxes to stall a process that would “eventually be of benefit to all citizens”.