Ghana’s GIBA wins case to prevent regulator introducing conditional access for license revenue collection by stealth

23 September 2022

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The Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) went to court over what it argued was the regulator’s (NCA) ‘backdoor’ introduction of conditional access as a standard on future DTT boxes. Russell Southwood talked to Cecil Sunkwa-Mills, President, GIBA about why they went to Court and what winning the case means.

The nub of the argument GIBA had with the regulator NCA was its opposition to using conditional access as a mechanism for collecting revenues to finance the public broadcaster, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC): “The NCA wanted to put in a conditional access system to replace the revenue provided by the TV license law. But to do this they really needed to replace current policy and law. GIBA presented alternatives, including using a percentage of the current Communications Services tax. They didn’t accept our proposals.”

“The TV license law works on a levy on equipment, the TV itself. It doesn’t interfere with access to and distribution of content. There is not the legal basis for a conditional access decision that would block content from reaching people. We went to the Supreme Court on this constitutional argument as it would deprive people of the right to access content and this right is enshrined in the country’s constitution.”

According to GIBA’s announcement: “The High Court on Tuesday, 16th August 2022, delivered its ruling in favour of the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) in a matter in which GIBA sought among other things, a judicial review in order to quash the decision of the National Communications Authority’s (NCA) establishment of its Minimum Requirements for the Reception of Digital Terrestrial and Satellite Television service it published in December 2019, in conformity with the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) Policy developed by the Ministry of Communications and Digitalisation, in so far as same sought to block the content of Free-to-Air (FTA) Digital Terrestrial Television broadcasters through the use of a Conditional Access System (CAS).”

“The Court held that, the Conditional (Controlled) Access System which the NCA has made a requirement, for the importation of television sets and set-top-boxes (decoders), to enable it impose and collect an electronic tax in the form of TV License Fees, in the absence of any substantive or subsidiary legislation to that effect, amounts to Jurisdictional Error by Excess of Jurisdiction. Hence, the provision made for the inclusion of Conditional Access System for Free-to-Air TV receivers was illegal and therefore quashed. One other key takeaway from the judgement is the emphasis on the continuous need for open and honest engagement with stakeholders to foster partnerships in formulating policies, not just for the media industry but in all other sectors, especially when policies that affect them are being developed.”

The major threat of conditional access for funding the public broadcaster is that it would hit audiences for all FTA broadcasters as it would potentially reduce sales of set-top boxes. This would come at a bad time for local broadcasters as all have experienced drops in revenue, coming out of Covid-19 and the associated economic impact on the economy: “There are huge numbers of stations chasing a limited basket of revenue.” Some stations have not paid their staff for several months.

The digital transition is a work in progress. It was agreed that a PPP would be set up and that a table of fees – depending on the number of regions reached – would be agreed. Rates would be lower for remote sites and higher for those reaching more populous sites: “We’ve never got the rates from NCA and broadcasters were put on the platform on a trial basis for 4-5 years. It was supposed to go to the National Media Commission to determine directors and staff, to ensure fairness, neutrality and efficiency.”

However, the company was set up and the President made the appointments: “This is not acceptable. There are always problems when politicians appoint someone in the media.” Rates were proposed to some broadcasters at a meeting which GIBA was not invited to: “GIBA wants to be seated at the table. The broadcasters don’t all understand the dynamics, regulatory and technical.”


28 SEPTEMBER, 8.45-10.30, Washington DC

How Mobile Phones are Catalyzing an African Revolution by JSI Center for Digital Health + Balancing Act

RSVP now to ensure a place – In person and streaming options. Click on link below:

A lively in-person/online debate on how ubiquitous mobile phones and Internet access became the technological future of a continent

Africans using mobile phones are driving the largest social and economic developments over the last three decades. It is certainly the greatest technological change the Continent has seen recently - even eclipsing Internet access, which arguably only has widespread impact because of the ubiquity of mobile devices.

- How have mobile phones changed African economies and societies? 
- Where are the new opportunities we can leverage? 
- Who are the innovators and initiators we should know?
- What will Africa 3.0 look like and what’s needed to get there? 

Please RSVP now to join Russell Southwood, long-time African telecom analyst at Balancing Act, and author of the just-published book, Africa 2.0 - Inside a Continent's Communications Revolution, a ‘first draft’ history that goes beyond the hype to show what happened and guide our future efforts. 
He will be part of a lively in-person/online debate on September 28, 2022, and joined by special guests from government, entrepreneurship, international development - and you! - to explore how the humble mobile phone became and will be the technological future of a continent, including*:

Caroline Muhwezi, U-Report Global Coordinator, UNICEF
Ernest Ndukewe, Chairman Of The Board, MTN Nigeria 
Luke Kyohere, Chief Product Officer, MFS Africa
Dr. Revi Sterling, Digital Inclusion Senior Technical Director, CARE
Russell Southwood, CEO, Balancing Act
Teddy Berihun, Director of Information Systems, Palladium

Moderated by Jonathan Metzger, Director, Center for Digital Health at JSI
Please RSVP now to join us in-person to engage with the discussants and network with your fellow digital development practitioners from 8:45-10:30am on September 28, 2022. A light breakfast will be provided to help energize us for the stimulating conversation.

In Brief

MultiChoice South Africa recently revealed its long-awaited media streaming TV box — the DStv Streama – at the company’s 2022 Media Showcase. MultiChoice South Africa CEO Nyiko Shiburi announced that the TV box will officially launch in South Africa on 1 October 2022. According to Shiburi, the DStv Streama is a compact streaming box that supports 4K video with HDR 10 and Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound. The Streama includes apps for MultiChoice’s Showmax streaming service and SuperSport and third-party streaming apps, namely Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and YouTube Kids.

Somalia: The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday called on authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland to allow the privately owned CBA TV broadcaster to resume operations and to desist from using bans to silence the press.

Kenya: In partnership with NBCUniversal Formats, MultiChoice’s streaming services, Showmax has announced that it is bringing The Real Housewives to Nairobi. Set to premiere in 2023 as a Showmax Original, The Real Housewives of Nairobi is the 22nd international version of The Real Housewives format and the sixth to be adapted in Africa.

South Africa: Vodacom has launched the YouTube ‘Buy & Get’ promotion which gives customers free YouTube data for simply buying a qualifying 7-day or 30-day data bundle. For instance, a qualifying 7-day or 30-day 1GB data bundle, will give a customer 500MB YouTube bundle (valid for 7 days) tagged-on for free, whereas a 2GB data bundle at R149 will give a customer a free 1GB YouTube bundle valid for 30 days. In addition to this YouTube ‘Buy & Get’ promotion, customers are now also able to purchase ‘Double Your Data’ YouTube social bundles, which doubles the value of the social bundle. With Double Your Data YouTube social bundles, a 1GB YouTube social bundle at R40, gives a customer another 1GB for free (valid for 30 days).

Malawi: Forum for National Development (FND) has threatened to take legal actions against Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) for shielding state-funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) on its compliance to payment of license fees.

Mettlestate, leading South African Esports tournament organiser, and Cougar Gaming have announced their partnership and aim to make waves in the local esports space.

Ghana: 3Media Network has launched a 24-hour channel, 3Music TV. According to the station’s handlers, the 24-hour channel forms part of a vision to build the continent’s most impactful and engaging multi-platform music and entertainment lifestyle media brand targeting young Africans. 3Music TV will lead a digital-first plan, functioning as the linchpin of 3Media Network’s broadcasting arm, which also includes a creative animation and a visual production unit, content distributions arm and an event and youth experiential unit.

South Africa's leading news website, News24, has rebranded its financial news platform, Fin24, in conjunction with a slew of changes affecting all of the publication's vertical brands. This section will now be known as News24 Business, complete with a new logo design, as News24 strengthens the quality of its content offering across its various virtual pages. The move ties into a broader brand refresh at News24 which includes both cosmetic and structural changes to the main website. The publication’s refreshed business section is aimed at further aligning News24’s popular verticals under one umbrella brand.

Sierra Leone: The broadcast media regulator – National Telecommunications Commission – suspended Star Radio and Star TV licenses for more than two weeks in August and denied workers access to the broadcasters’ transmitters. Philip Neville, the broadcasters’ founder who holds 70 per cent ownership, said that in mid-August, commission officers arrived at the offices of the broadcasters’ transmitters and ordered all the staff to vacate the premises. Neville also said the officers told him that they gave the order because the broadcasters failed to pay about US$10,000 of allegedly accumulated debt that the broadcasters owed to the commission for broadcast licenses, including some licenses no longer in use. However, Neville argued that before the commission officers’ visit and the suspension of licenses, the broadcasters believed payments to the commission were up to date and there was no debt.