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Editorial: MultiChoice just doesn’t get it

When MultiChoice chief executive Calvo Mawela addressed the media this week, he was contrite. There had been “mistakes”, he said.

But we’re no clearer about what exactly those mistakes were, except for MultiChoice’s apparent failing to anticipate public anger over its dealings with the Gupta family.

However, we should be clear: MultiChoice has not just made mistakes. MultiChoice engaged wilfully in actions that, in a court of law, could amount to bribery and other financial crimes, including a creative attempt at state capture. Remember, it allegedly offered the SABC a bribe to support a policy that would profit MultiChoice.

MultiChoice also insists none of its executives can be held accountable for its mistakes because they were all acting in the best interests of the company.

The thing is, the best interests of MultiChoice are not the best interests of South Africa, or of the rule of law. So, no, MultiChoice does not get to say “oopsie” and hope we will forget all about this. We cannot allow the real issues to be buried under the avalanche of excruciating moralism over the decision to can its deal with ANN7. As MultiChoice is a subsidiary of a listed entity, its directors should be brought to book.

Also, it cannot get away with adding in a throwaway line about “lobbying” — insisting that all its engagements with the government about digital migration amounted to lobbying, and then piously promising to set guidelines for lobbying in the future. This does not do it for us, either.

And let’s be very clear — cutting off ANN7 is not penance. Rather, it is an obfuscation of MultiChoice’s own culpability in hindering the development of South Africa.

This entire controversy began with MultiChoice’s opposition to digital encryption, which would have opened up the broadcasting space and increased the number, and enhanced the quality, of the news products available. Now, because of public sentiment, MultiChoice is ready to cut off ANN7, a news broadcaster it once championed.

In December, the Mail & Guardian revealed that, in 2013, MultiChoice had threatened to drop eNCA from its DStv platform if did not end its pursuit of encrypted set-top boxes. MultiChoice chief executive Imtiaz Patel warned that it would do this when its eNCA contract came up for renewal. This was confirmed by Yunus Carrim, who had been communications minister at the time, and three sources privy to the negotiations.

Now that the tides have turned, MultiChoice is ready to cull ANN7 to make itself look better.

But there is nothing to celebrate about MultiChoice doing this. It is not a revolutionary reaction to state capture, the Guptas or Jacob Zuma. Rather, it is a danger for democracy. After all, our democracy ought not be so fragile that it cannot withstand ANN7’s shitty journalism.

And if the shitty journalism was indeed so shitty that it posed a threat to South Africans, the rule of law or democracy, then the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa ought to ensure that basic standards of broadcasting are upheld. But it’s not MultiChoice that should be deciding what we can or cannot let pass for news.

And that’s where this whole problem stems from — MultiChoice is far too powerful for its own good. 

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