TOPSTAR has removed City Television, CBC and Revelation TV from its platform effective midnight of Sunday April 19.
According to the affected media houses, Topstar insists on charging them it makes from subscription fees.
But Topstar public relations manager Joy Chula said the three platforms’ service level agreements expired.
A source revealed that the point of difference was that the three media institutions, including Q-TV, which was the first to be axed, had been resisting to pay Topstar.
“Our regulator seems very scared to confront them. They pay for content from other countries but won’t pay for ours; ours as in local content. We went to IBA to complain but they seem unconcerned, fearing the unknown. Meanwhile, both Topstar and local content providers are regulated by IBA and they buy content from 53 plus foreign content providers but won’t pay us the locals,” said the source.
They complained that since inception of digital broadcasting, the privately owned television stations had not had it easy.
Topstar is a company created by Star Times of China and ZNBC for the purpose of rolling out the digital platform in the country.
The TV stations further complained that no single part of the digital migration policy had been followed by Topstar despite their effort asking for it to be respected.
“On several occasions, Topstar, who are also regulated by Independent Broadcasting Authority, do as they please by issuing letters of closure, unwarranted demand letters and service level agreements that do not reflect why digital migration was embarked upon but as of yesterday (Tuesday) was finally effected. Further, Topstar whose main financier, Star Times, has legal issues with Being of United Kingdom over failure to pay for the football rights, is forcing local private television station into closure through demanding for carriage fees.”
They said the carriage fee being asked from the local television stations was unjustifiable because Topstar was making money from content but was not willing to share with the content providers.
“Instead they are busy issuing demand letters to the targeted media houses who refused to sign the service level agreement that it is asking for [K90,000] per month to carry these channels across various parts of the country,” he said.
Further, the affected media houses said the carriage fee issue had been in existence shortly after Topstar encrypted the stations without asking the owners of these television stations whether they wanted to be locked or remain free to air, a matter they said was illegal.
“The matter has been to Parliament before on two occasions while the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services is also aware of this pending problem and the minister herself has held meetings with the media houses at her office a couple of times and nothing tangible has come out. During the meetings at the information ministry, the regulator, IBA, has been present and agreed as regards the concerns of the private TV stations and the subscription fees sharing. The local TV stations are struggling to make ends meet and stay up to date with any statutory payments while Topstar takes all the money from the subscriptions without any commercial agreement in place,” they complained.
“As the situation stands right now, Covenant Broadcasting Company (CBC) was closed over 5 weeks ago by Topstar without compensation from the money the Chinese owned company makes from subscription. The truth is that Topstar is enjoying monopoly and call the shots at any given point and the regulator seems to let them get away with it while the local TV stations are reprimanded and squeezed in the corner.”
They argued that any pay television platform was supposed to pay for content they use to make money from subscriptions just like Topstar pays Sky News, Al Jazeera and all the foreign channels included on their bouquet get paid through what is know as Cost Per Subscriber (CPS).
However, they complained that TopStar had blatantly refused to pay local providers for the local content but is asking them to pay to be carried.
“They do not charge foreign channels to show in Zambia on a platform that was intended for Zambian TV stations but can simply issues letters of demand to be paid. As it stands right now two more channels have been closed on TopStar decoder because they have refused to sign the service level agreement issued by Topstar CEO Mr Sword Li,” stated the affected platforms.
They maintained that the action by Topstar goes against the digital migration policy which clearly states that there shall be no discrimination of the platforms to be carried.
“It is sad today in Zambia the business of TV content provision on a platform that was intended for Zambians through the $278m loan is flooded with foreign channels who are reaping the dividends while nothing is left for Zambian content providers. Zambia’s local content providers are being removed from the digital platforms quietly and the regulators are not doing anything about it because it is either about money or politics. Who is next on list of those to be shut down for rightly asking for what is theirs while their concerns are not taken into account remains a mystery as Star Times, a Chinese company does as it pleases and it has been getting away with their uncouth behaviour in a country where living no one behind is a ‘statement from state officers.”
Further, they noted that Topstar, according to the draft digital migration policy, was supposed to be just a carrier and nothing else but has abrogated almost, if not the whole policy, by operating as a pay television thus encrypting other channels without the consent of local operators.
“It must be understood that many subscribers of Topstar pay to watch their own local channels not Kung Fu or West African productions. Topstar makes about K45,500,000 or $2 million per month if the bouquet is averaged at K65 multiplied by about 700,000 subscribers, though they could be more. By 19th April 2021 Zambians were deprived of the local content after deleting listed platforms off the taxpayers’ platform called Topstar,” complained the affected platforms.
When contacted for comment, Chula said the three platforms’ service level agreements came to an end.
She said service level agreements which were like contracts expired thus their removal from the Topstar bouquet.
“The service level agreement came to an end; they are like contracts, and they expired,” Chula said.
She further dispelled assertions that Topstar had been refusing to pay for local content while they pay millions for content originating from outside Zambia.
“That’s not the way it is, our service level agreement with local TV stations has got nothing to do with content, it’s carriage. The service level agreement we have with them is about the signal, content has nothing to do with that. We only provide them with signals, we are a signal distributor, that’s all,” said Chula.