E.tv Botswana takes Sentech to court over pirated signal

Regulation & Policy

E.tv Botswana has asked South Africa’s South Gauteng High Court to grant it an interdict and force Sentech, South Africa’s state-owned broadcast signal distributor, to change its current signal encryption system.

Broadcast signal pirates have intercepted Sentech’s system and are allegedly illegally broadcasting the SABC’s signal to Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

Sentech introduced its Vivid decoders several years ago to enable South African viewers who could not access a terrestrial signal to watch SABC1, SABC2, SABC3 and e.tv. Several free-to-air channels on the platform include gospel channels and Botswana Television.

But through a cheap decoder called Philabao, viewers outside of South Africa are able to catch the Vivid signal free of charge. The decoder is similar to a standard satellite receiver but allegedly modified in China to decrypt Sentech’s encryption system.

Last week, the Department of Communications hosted a regional seminar on broadcast signal piracy, where representatives from African countries met to discuss ways to mitigate broadcast-signal piracy.

A presentation by Mashilo Boloka, the director of broadcast policy at the department, showed that broadcasting signal piracy on the continent was highest in Zimbabwe (92 percent). Boloka said only 30 percent of the population had adequate access to broadcasting services.

Colonel John Matroos, the national co-ordinator of the intellectual property rights unit, a new division under the National Prosecuting Authority, said there “is currently no true reflection of signal piracy in South Africa” because better communication between the broadcasting industry and police was necessary.

Dan Rosengarten, an attorney for e.tv Botswana, has confirmed litigation. Papers were filed in court in April and Rosengarten said the matter would appear in court either late in July or early in August.  He said Sentech, listed as the first respondent, had indicated it would oppose. The SABC and communications regulator the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) are second and third respondent respectively.

Nthabeleng Mokitimi, the spokeswoman for Sentech, did not respond to questions on the litigation but said that the signal distributor had noticed five years ago that its current conditional access (CA) system had been compromised due to installers who imported decoders with bridged software embedded into the box. “Upon noticing this, Sentech explored various options to mitigate the risk. We are currently in the process of migrating to a more reliable CA system,” Mokitimi said.

Dave Coles, general manager of e.tv Botswana, said Philabao decoders were sold for about R250 in Botswana. e.tv Botswana is a unit of South Africa’s e.tv.

Ref: Business Report, June 13 2011 by Asha Speckman, IOL.co.za