Many Zimbabweans set to lose free to air TV channels broadcast from South Africa by Sentech

Broadcast

Many Zimbabweans are set to lose their access to free-to-air TV channels like SABC 1, 2 and 3 among others, after the High Court in Johannesburg ordered signal carrier Sentech to encrypt its signal within the next three months.

For several years now viewers in countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi have used a range of decoders like Wiztech, Philibao, Fortec Star and Vivid, to illegally view television channels beamed from South Africa without subscription.

But last year eBotswana, a subsidiary of South Africa's eTV, took the matter to court demanding that Sentech encrypt its signal to prevent this cross border signal piracy. Sentech was also accused of knowing about the problem and not doing anything about it. Last week the court ruled against Sentech and ordered it to pay the costs of eBotswana’s application.

With the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation virtually nothing more than a campaign platform for ZANU PF, viewers have switched off, choosing instead to watch foreign stations.

The court decision now means many in Zimbabwe will lose access to channels as not everyone can afford the subscriptions required. In a country where the state has a broadcasting monopoly it can only mean a set back in terms of the free flow of news and information.

Meanwhile a potential clash is looming between Transport and Communication Minister Nicholas Goche and Information Communication Technology (ICT) Minister Nelson Chamisa, over plans by Econet Wireless to install a fibre optic cable linking Zimbabwe to the high-speed undersea cables in Mozambique.

Goche is blocking Econet, claiming the service is already being provided by state-owned TelOne and that its government policy that “service providers must not compete for the provision of infrastructure, but on the provision of services.” Chamisa however contradicted this saying it was not government policy.

“I am yet to talk to Minister Goche about it. It is government policy to make sure that we have access to the undersea cables, as of yesterday,” Chamisa told the local NewsDay newspaper.