A SECOND high-profile broadcasting policy initiative by former communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda has been overturned in less than a week - reversing the proposed costly adoption of an alternative technology to be used for SA's migration to digital TV.

Earlier this week, Communications Minister Roy Padayachie dumped Gen Nyanda's proposed broadcast legislation that sought to introduce a 1% extra tax to fund the SABC.

Yesterday, communications ministers of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), including SA, announced that the region would continue implementing the European technology - Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial (DVB-T).

The decision will bring relief to the local technology sector, which had threatened court action to undo Gen Nyanda's decision in April to order a review of alternative Brazilian-Japanese technology, know as ISDB-T - even after trials for the European standard had been carried out, after Cabinet approval four years ago.

The industry, including broadcasters M-Net and e.tv, has since spent more than R250m testing the DVB-T technology and upgrading systems accordingly.

The southern Africa region - with SA as the key player - is migrating to a digital broadcasting platform from analogue in line with International Communications Union requirements.

Joel Kaapanda, the Namibian chairman of the Sadc committee of ministers responsible for information communications and technology, said the committee's decision to adopt DVB-T was based on the international deadline to switch off the analogue signal by 2015.

Sadc has imposed a 2013 switch-off deadline.

A number of countries including Mauritius are already implementing the DVB-T technology. Mr Kaapanda said those countries should proceed with the implementation, but they should ultimately migrate to the superior version, DVB-T2.

When he announced his decision to review the alternative technology, Gen Nyanda said it would help SA and the region to determine which standard would bring more benefits for consumers and industry.

He said a decision on standards would be influenced by SA's developmental needs, the interests of the industry, and Africa's "technological advancement agenda". Brazil is using the Japanese technology, which it has modified to enable it to provide some value-added services.

Industry players say there has never been a clear explanation as to why the government wanted to change to the Japanese version.

Kate Skinner, of the broadcast lobby group Save Our SABC (SOS), said yesterday the set-top boxes should be cheap for the migration to digital to be a success, and to encourage local industry.

Masa Sugano, first secretary for economic and commercial affairs at the Japanese embassy, is disappointed at Sadc's decision but said at least individual countries have an option to adopt any other technology as long as it complies with an agreement reached in 2006 by the region, which leaves an opening for the Brazil- Japan technology to be adopted.

Keith Thabo, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers of Electronics Components, said the decision is wrong as it would not allow SA to modify the software to meet social and developmental needs. It would also exclude black manufacturers from taking part, he said.

E.tv's Vasili Vass said the broadcaster would await Mr Padayachie's official announcement before commenting.

The Department of Communications is finalising the digital migration strategy that will include the manufacturing of millions of set-top boxes, and subsidies for the poorest households. The proposal will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval in the first quarter of next year.

mochikot@bdfm.co.za