Sentech shuts down pirate TV signals

Regulation & Policy

Sentech has shut off the signals that allowed millions of residents of neighbouring countries to watch the SABC and e.tv.

Sentech has shut down the signals that allowed people in South Africa’s neigbouring countries to receive free-to-air broadcasts from the SABC and e.tv using a range of cheap, imported decoders.

The decoders were able to pick up Sentech’s satellite broadcasts from its Vivid service because the signals were not properly encrypted.

E.tv sister channel eBotswana — a free-to-air terrestrial television station based in Gabarone — brought a case against Sentech in 2011 at the high court in Johannesburg claiming that Sentech’s lack of encryption was resulting in a loss of advertising revenue for the channel due to “unlawful competition”.

Residents of Botswana were able to receive SABC broadcasts, even though the broadcaster had no licence to operate in the country, using a variety of satellite receivers. The receivers were able to pirate the signal from Sentech’s Vivid bouquet.

Sentech had originally committed to upgrading its encryption by March 2011, but failed to do so.

In February last year, the high court ruled in eBotswana’s favour, finding that Sentech was “liable in delict for its failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent pirate viewing” in Botswana of SABC 1, 2 and 3. The court described the failure as “wrongful, negligent and in breach” of Sentech’s “duty of care” towards eBotswana.

Sentech was ordered to ensure that viewers in Botswana were prevented from pirate viewing of the South African free-to-air channels carried on the Vivid platform and was instructed to pay eBotswana’s costs. The court also ordered that Sentech encrypt the signals by May 2012, but the company appealed the decision. It has since dropped its appeal.

Sentech still faces a damages claim from eBotswana.