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End in sight for release of SA watchdog’s sports broadcast regulations

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi lifts the 2019 Rugby World Cup trophy (Photo by Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

South African broadcast and telecoms regulator Icasa has targeted the end of September by which to publish the details of its long-awaited sports broadcast regulations.

Having published its ‘Draft Sports Broadcasting Services Amendment Regulations’ at the end of 2018 in a bid to redress the balance of sports coverage in the country, ICASA has held hearings with sports and broadcast stakeholders as it continues to prepare the legislation.

Icasa is looking to amend the current legislation to ensure that sports events of a national interest enjoy live free-to-air coverage.

Icasa councillor Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa told South Africa’s TimesLive website: “We are hoping that as the authority‚ we will be able to publish the final regulations of 2020 by the end of September.”

She added: “Around June this year‚ we will publish the final draft of the regulations and the public will be offered the opportunity to have their say.

“We therefore encourage civil society organisations‚ community interest groups‚ broadcasters‚ the sports fraternity and ordinary South Africans to participate in this process so as to enable Icasa to make informed decisions and conclusions that are indeed in the public interest.”

Media group Multichoice, which owns South Africa’s dominant pay-television operator DStv and pay-television sports broadcaster SuperSport, holds the lion’s share of premium sports rights in the country.

Under the draft regulations published 15 months ago, Icasa listed the following events as requiring compulsory live free-to-air coverage:

  • The Summer Olympic Games
  • Paralympics
  • Fifa World Cup
  • Africa Cup of Nations (men’s and women’s)
  • Rugby World Cup
  • ICC Cricket World Cup and ICC T20 Cricket World Cup
  • International boxing federations events
  • National netball competitions
  • Commonwealth Games
  • IAAF athletics events

Icasa’s work on the sports broadcast regulations comes with the finances of the SABC, the South African public-service broadcaster, still very much under the microscope. It was recently announced that the broadcaster would receive ZAR1.1bn (€59.3m/$66.2m) in its latest bailout from the country’s Treasury.

The broadcaster last year criticised the “exorbitant” price of sports rights, claiming that 83 per cent of all of its expenditure went directly on the acquisition of sports rights. This contributed to a ZAR483m loss for the 2018-19 financial year.

In May last year, Icasa held public hearings on the draft amendment regulations with presentations made by various South African sports bodies. These included Premier Soccer League, the South African Football Association, SA Rugby, Boxing South Africa, Netball South Africa and national Olympic committee Sascoc.

Sports bodies have argued that the proposed legislation could “kill” sport in the country given the various sports’ reliance on rights fees largely generated by the pay-television sector.

MultiChoice, the SABC and e.tv, the privately-owned free-to-air broadcaster, are also reported to have held meetings with the regulator.

Gongxeka-Seopa said that there would be another round of hearings between May and June for the interested stakeholders and the public to offer any final input.

She added: “We are also required by law to consult with the ministers of communication and of sport and recreation before we conclude these regulations‚ and we have done that and continue to do so…

“…even though we currently do not know what the regulations will finally be like due to continued engagement with affected or interested stakeholders‚ we are mindful of the fact that this is a highly contested terrain and there is potential pushback in the form of litigation from those who may not like the new regulations.

“But we will be ready to discharge our public interest mandate of ensuring that millions of South Africans have access to sports of national interest as envisaged in the broadcasting legislation.”

Icasa’s proposed regulations also include a list of 16 events that should be offered to a pay-television broadcaster on a non-exclusive basis under sublicensing conditions. The list includes Super 14 Rugby, the All Africa Games, PSL, CAF’s Champions League and Confederations Cup, rugby union’s Currie Cup, domestic cricket leagues and South Africa’s Premier Hockey League.

The draft regulations also call for both free-to-air and pay-television broadcaster to air events from at least two “minority and developmental” sporting codes. These include basketball, golf, gymnastics, ice hockey, martial arts, motorsport, squash, tennis, volleyball and wrestling.