SOS, MMA to challenge privatisation and monopolisation of public airwaves
05 May 2016
On 11 February 2016, the Competition Tribunal handed down judgment on the contractual arrangement between the SABC and Multichoice Africa (MCA) concerning the use and transfer of control over its archives. The effect of this contractual agreement, we believed then as we do now, saw the SABC hand over control of a considerable proportion of productive capacity, as well as decision-making authority over significant policy positions to MCA, thereby constituting a notifiable merger between the national public broadcaster and its direct competitor.
While the Tribunal’s judgment was against our favour, we took the matter on appeal to the Competition Appeal Court to follow through on our commitment to a vibrant and pluralistic broadcasting sector that would prioritise the free-flow of information, and educational and entertainment content services for the benefit of the majority of the people of South Africa.
Our concern over the relationship between the SABC and MCA is not about the propriety of the public broadcaster doing business with its competitor in what we know to be a turbulent and cost-intensive sector having to operate under increasingly hostile market market forces. It is about what should be the people’s broadcaster entering into business arrangements that not only edify a subscription broadcaster’s growing monopoly over content services, and assisting it to profit from public institutions operating out of public resources.
While the business agreement may have short-term benefits for the SABC, as a matter of principle, we cannot allow the capture of our national public broadcaster, the SABC, by private business interests, as we believe has been done under the disputed business arrangement. Further, we cannot allow the commodification, privatisation and monopolisation of our airwaves and content archives by subscription broadcasters who expect us to pay for the informative, educational and entertainment content we should be accessing for openly and freely, because they are ours. Most of all, we cannot allow these kinds of business deals to happen under cover of darkness, as they did, under the pretence of commercially sensitive information. What happens with public resources managed by public institutions must be made open and transparent and available for public scrutiny.
This is why we have taken the matter on appeal, and this is why we have approached the Competition Appeal Court to direct the Competition Commission to exercise its comprehensive investigative powers in order to ascertain and confirm to the people of South Africa that the deal between the SABC and MCA is not, indeed, anti-competitive in nature, and is in the best interests of the people of South Africa who own the SABC.
The matter will be heard at 09:00 on Friday 06 May 2016, in the Western Cape High Court Precinct.
About MMA: Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) started in 1993 and is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote democracy and a culture where media and the powerful respect human rights and encourage a just and fair society.
About SOS: The SOS Coalition represents a broad spectrum of civil society stakeholders committed to the broadcasting of quality, diverse, citizen-orientated public-interest programming aligned to the goals of the South African Constitution. The Coalition includes a number of trade union federations including COSATU and FEDUSA, a number of independent unions including BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), SECTION27 and a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.
For more information, contact:
William Bird (MMA): 082 887 1370
Sekoetlane Phamodi (SOS): 076 084 8077
Heads of Argument