Last week the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) signal carrier Sentech finally encrypted its signal, making it impossible for free-to-air decoder viewers in neighbouring countries to watch SABC’s TV channels.
In February 2012, Sentech was ordered by the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to shut down its signal within the next three months. It is unclear why it took the company until now to comply with the court ruling.
The ultimatum from the court to disconnect viewers outside South Africa followed a request by local African broadcasters and pan-continental business units such as eBotswana, which in 2011 asked the Johannesburg court for an order to compel Sentech to encrypt its signal, as failure to do so had given rise to rampant signal piracy with a debilitating effect on revenues.
In fact, multinational companies and brands have opted to abandon TV stations in certain African countries to advertise on South African TV, knowing their commercials and products will be seen by viewers across Africa through the TV signals of South African broadcasters in those countries anyway.
Millions of South Africa’s neighbours have been pirate watching SABC’s channels on free-to-air Chinese decoders such as Philibao, Wiztech, Fortec and South Africa’s Vivid decoders.
While many South African viewers lament the poor quality of public television and growing numbers of them pirate view overseas TV from the United States and Britain, South Africa’s neighbouring countries have in turn relied on SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 for their much better entertainment programming.
Mugabe smiles as SABC’s channels are cut off
Sentech has scrambled SABC’s television channels in Zimbabwe, Business Day reported on Wednesday.
As a consequence, Zimbabweans now can only view state broadcaster, the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), making Mugabe the ‘big winner’ in SABC channels cuts. Political analysts say this move will deprive Zimbabwean voters of an alternative source of news ahead of the 31 July election, since ZBC remains the only source of information.
“By default, Mr Mugabe is the biggest beneficiary in all this. It is most likely that those affected will have a choice to watch more of the ZBC, but whether they do that or not is unclear,” said Trevor Maisiri, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
The ZBC’s record of partisan broadcasting in favour of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party has left many in Zimbabwe with little confidence in the ZBC’s credibility. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been pushing for media reforms as a prerequisite to holding free and fair elections.
Douglas Mwonzora, spokesman for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, said on Tuesday the state broadcaster had over the years turned itself into a “conveyor belt” of Zanu-PF propaganda.
Not surprisingly, ZBC spokesman Sivukile Simango said as the nation’s broadcaster they were happy that finally Sentech had complied with international laws as the beaming of pirated programmes in other countries was unlawful. “People have a wrong perception, they look down upon their own programmes like Tiriparwendo, but are quick to watch other similar programmes like SA’s Muvhango,” Simango said.
Zimbabweans still can access South African TV channels by subscribing to DSTV through MultiChoice, by paying $10 per month for the cheapest subscription, or $72 for the premium. Very few Zimbabweans can afford these charges.