Monday, 28 March 2022 21:00

Court orders analogue TV switch-off delayed until June.

By Duncan McLeod.

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has been ordered by the high court not to complete analogue television switch-off in South Africa on 31 March as she had planned.

A full bench of the high court in Pretoria late on Monday handed down judgment in the case against the minister brought by free-to-air broadcaster e.tv. The court has ordered her to delay analogue switch-off by three months, to 30 June. But the judgment is likely to be seen mostly as a victory for Ntshavheni.

The litigants, which also included Media Monitoring Africa and SOS Support Public Broadcasting, had hoped for more time than allowed by the court to complete the migration and ensure that government-subsidised set-top boxes are deployed into more indigent households.

"The 31 March decision is declared to be unlawful and invalid and is reviewed and set aside," the judgment said.

The minister must report to the court within one month of the judgment, setting out steps that have been taken by government to ensure that members of the public currently reliant on analogue broadcasting services are provided with access to digital set-top boxes. She must also report on her plans to provide adequately resourced call centres to process viewer queries and ensure an effective viewer campaign has been conducted.

"It remains to be seen how many households will be adversely affected by the switch-off. However, it would be unreasonable to allow for a situation where this unknown variable is allowed to hold up a process that will eventually be of benefit to all citizens and where government must meet its international obligations," the court said.

E.tv and other litigants failed to prove their assertion that there are about 2.6 million TV-watching households — representing eight million indigent people — that will be cut off from free-to-air terrestrial broadcasts on 31 March. Also, in light of the project to provide for set-top boxes to all qualifying registered households, government has done enough within its powers to help the qualifying households realise this right, the court said.

However, to ensure government does not switch off the estimated half a million households that have registered timeously and that are entitled to the installation of a set-top box — and who are likely to be switched off if government does not reach its installation target — the court decided that the analogue switch-off date should be deferred to end-June to give government sufficient time to complete the installations.

E.tv has been ordered to pay 50% of the minister’s legal costs.