Just when you thought the legal tussles over the broadcast rights for the Rugby World Cup had been settled, eMedia has launched a new legal challenge against MultiChoice.
The rugby-mad world is anxiously waiting for Sunday’s blockbuster game when the defending champion Springboks take on hosts France at 21h00 local time – where the most pressing concern is whether there will be a 7-1 or 6-2 split in the replacements.
Early last month, the SABC secured last-minute rights to broadcast 16 of the 48 rugby games, including all of the Springboks matches.
But this arrangement did not include eMedia’s Openview free-to-air satellite service – for which the broadcaster brought an urgent case against MultiChoice. The High Court of Johannesburg struck this off the roll on Tuesday 10 October, finding it was not urgent.
This legal definition is a prerequisite for, well, urgent interdicts. Without criticising the judges, the millions of South Africans who can’t get SABC channels after it turned off the analogue signal this year, might not agree.
By dismissing the case because it was not urgent, the High Court has not ruled on the merits argued by eMedia.
“eMedia is persisting in its application against MultiChoice and SuperSport in the interest of the hundreds of thousands of viewers that rely on Openview for purposes of accessing the SABC’s Channels,” eMedia said in a statement.
It estimates some 3.2-million households are “being precluded from viewing the World Cup Rugby matches because of the restriction imposed by SuperSport”.
MultiChoice SA disputed this figure in its countering affidavit to the now struck-off case. CEO Marc Jury wrote that “There is no evidentiary basis for eMedia’s proposition at all. Even if it is accepted that eMedia has sold 3.2-million of its Openview set-top boxes, this does not remotely demonstrate that the households concerned need those boxes to watch the rugby.”
A jury argued that the first lawsuit is a “classic example of free riding” by eMedia. This new legal challenge may take longer to wind its way through the court system but it will set an important precedent whenever it reaches a conclusion.
The SABC has just concluded another last-minute deal to broadcast the Cricket World Cup, seemingly with the same rights currently being disputed by eMedia. This legal challenge may ultimately set the legal tone for what the SABC will be able to show on Openview.