South Africa’s broadcasting regulator, Icasa, is under fire from all
sides after the launch of what it terms a rogue broadcaster — and with
potential legal challenges mounting, writes Lloyd Gedye in the Mail & Guardian.

When Icasa licensed five subscription broadcasters in September last year, the introduction of competition to the sector was heralded as a milestone. But four months down the line things are looking far from settled.

The first sign that all was not well was the announcement late last year by e.Sat, one of the successful licensees, that it had concluded a deal with MultiChoice, allowing its planned 24-hour news channel to be available on the DStv bouquet.

The other three new entrants — Telkom Media, On Digital Media and Walking on Water — are set to launch from mid-2008. But an unexpected new entrant launched last week. Free2View announced its free-to-air satellite TV platform, only immediately to be told it didn’t have a licence and could not operate in South Africa.

Free2View believes it can offer a free service without Icasa’s approvalbecause it is not broadcastingwithin South Africa’s borders and it is protected by the International Telecommunications Union regulations that govern legitimate spill.

“We are not required to have a licence. We are not broadcasting in South Africa, our signal is merely receivable here,” says Free2View chief technical director Malcolm Ramsay. Although Free2View is available for the cost of a satellite dish and decoder, it has only one channel in American news giant MSNBC.

It plans to have up to 36 channels when the full bouquet is available.

The Mail & Guardian learned this week that a number of the unsuccessful subscription broadcasting licence applicants feel they have been unjustly swept aside and are launching legal challenges to Icasa’s licensing decisions.

Black Earth Communications confirmed it is preparing its legal challenge and African Spirit said it is considering a legal challenge. The M&G understands that two further applicants are preparing or considering legal challenges.

The common argument is that Icasa is over-regulating the broadcasting sector and it should allow for as much diversity and competition in the sector as possible.

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to read the full report, posted on M&G Online.