* The judicial dispute between MultiChoice Malawi and MACRA is in court pending judgement—MultiChoice Africa
* The decision is made without prejudice to the ongoing negotiations and/or litigation—MACRA
By Duncan Mlanjira
Conflicting notices are filtering through from MultiChoice Africa Holdings, which is indicating that the potential return of DStv in Malawi is now dependent on the outcome of the judicial dispute between MultiChoice Malawi and Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), which is in court pending judgement.
The public notice released on Monday, September 11 follows that from MACRA on the same day, which notifies MultiChoice Malawi that having considered and reviewed its subscription adjustment as made in June 2022 and July 2023, the Authority approves both tariffs for implementation.
MACRA also asked MultiChoice to notify customers of the subscription fee changes before implementation, saying “now that the said tariffs have been submitted and considered, the Authority expects DStv service in Malawi to resume”.
MACRA emphasized that the “decision is made without prejudice to the ongoing negotiations and/or litigation”.
Last week, following a meeting between MACRA and MultiChoice Malawi on September 4 in Lilongwe, the Authority assured customers that the DStv service will resume by Friday, September 8.
This is after a dispute in the application of tariff adjustment that made MultiChoice Africa to withdraw its DStv service in the country and MACRA Director General, Daud Suleman said in a public notice that the two parties “reached an agreement and understanding which will see the resolution of the matter and resumption of the service”.
“MACRA assures the public that this matter will be resolved in a manner that balances the interest of either party and within the boundaries of the applicable law,” he said.
Throughout the impasse, which involved a Court process that made other stakeholders — including Minister of Information and the Parliamentary Committee on Media, Information & Communications to intervene — MACRA had been stressing that as an institution that upholds the rule of law, it was willing to resolve the issue peacefully outside court and welcomed reasonable suggestions that align with relevant laws and the licence.
First, it was MultiChoice Malawi itself that dragged the regulator to the High Court challenging its determination that the service provider “had breached its statutory and licence obligations by raising DStv tariffs without prior approval from MACRA”.
The dispute started in June last year, after MultiChoice Malawi officially sent an application to MACRA for GOtv and DStv tariff adjustment pursuant to section 74 of the Communications Act but before the regulator had decided on the tariff revision request, MultiChoice Malawi went ahead to announce to its customers — to what MACRA described as unilateral adjustment.
MACRA informed MultiChoice Malawi that it was in breach of licence and section 74 of the Communications Act and was called to a hearing but the service provider refused to appear before it and opted to pursue legal action by seeking an injunction to restrain MACRA from implementing the determination that it had made.
As the issues dragged endless till July 2023, MultiChoice Malawi still went ahead to announce the tariff adjustment even before the Court had yet made any determination on the matter.
And as MACRA stood its ground — coupled with the High Court’s order on August 8, 2023 directing MultiChoice Malawi to comply with the order of injunction which restrained it from implementing any changes or modifications to the DStv services tariffs — MultiChoice Africa Holdings withdrew its services from Malawi with immediate effect.
A statement from MultiChoice Africa Holdings’ group executive-corporate affairs & stakeholder relations, Keabetswe Modimoeng, maintained that MultiChoice Malawi “does not offer the DStv service to the public and, therefore, cannot set or adjust tariffs for this service, a point repeatedly made to MACRA”.
As a result, MultiChoice Africa Holdings said the Court order handed down to MultiChoice Malawi was “incapable of being implemented by them but carries with it grave consequences for the directors and management of MultiChoice Malawi, including imprisonment”.
MultiChoice Africa Holdings further said as its supplier, MultiChoice Malawi was given “an increasingly adverse regulatory environment”, and was “left with no option but to terminate the DStv service indefinitely”.
Customers were requested to halt payment for the DStv service but those who had already paid their new subscription had their services honored until after 30 days of viewing cycle that was to end on or before September 10, 2023.
Thus the Minister of Information and the Parliamentary Committee coming in to try and mediate on the two parties to resolve the issues amicably in the interest of the customers.