The SABC's decision to apply for a new commercial licence poses a direct challenge to DSTV, and will hopefully lead to better satellite TV for consumers, writes Viwe Tlaleane in Business Day.

Viwe Tlaleane writes in Business Day:

WHEN the SABC wanted to cancel the M-Net open time viewing slot from its main channel way back in 2003, nobody suspected anything. It seemed like a logical step for the public broadcaster to kick its competitor out of its “house”.

Four years later, the SABC in partnership with Sentech is applying for a multi-channel commercial television licence to start their own DStv equivalent. Only now does their 2003 action make sense.

The public broadcaster has been vilified for almost everything, from appalling programming to unfair trading in the radio industry (because of the cross-subsidisation that takes place between its commercial and public radio stations).

But its latest move could, for a while, mean a welcome relief from DStv’s boring channels.

The only channels worth watching are the sports channels, and the MultiChoice staff has nothing to do with their appeal. Competition in any industry is a welcome change because it always benefits the consumer and stimulates growth.

Should the SABC-Sentech consortium win the licence for a multi-channel offering, and there is no plausible reason why it shouldn’t, the cross-subsidisation debate will be dusted off and brought back to the table by other industry players. The SABC gets government funding because of its public broadcaster profile.

Its commercial and public radio stations share infrastructure and equipment paid for with taxpayers’ money. Independent commercial radio stations felt this was unfair competition.

If the new commercial television channels are housed at Auckland Park and share resources with public channels, e-tv and MultiChoice will be justified in kicking up a stink and this time Icasa should take action against the public broadcaster. Maybe the SABC should be awarded its commercial television licence on condition that it physically separates its public and commercial operations. Icasa is sifting through hundreds of commercial television licence applications and chances are we will know the successful ones only around June. More exciting will be applications for regional television licences, which will make the SABC very nervous.

* Viwe Tlaleane edits The Bottom Line. E-mail to: bottomline@ This column first appeared in Business Day on 6 February 2007.