Russia Today (RT), the Russian state-owned news channel is no longer available on DStv, just one day after MultiChoice Group said it had no intention of canning it. But the decision was out of the pay-television broadcaster’s hands.
Viewers who tune into DStv channel 407 – where RT is meant to be housed – are now greeted with a message saying the “channel is closed” and are encouraged to check the television guide for when it might open again.
The closure of the channel was spotted by an eagle-eyed TechCentral reader on Wednesday evening. The channel also seems to have been suspended from the online streaming version of DStv – the stream simply wouldn’t start when TechCentral tried to play it.
The channel’s disappearance comes a day after MultiChoice told this publication that it would not pull the channel of its pay-TV bouquets, despite an EU-wide ban and restrictions placed on it – and another Russian news broadcaster Sputnik – by technology giants including Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Meta Platforms and Twitter.
But MultiChoice, it has transpired, had nothing to do with taking RT off DStv. In response to a query from TechCentral, the company confirmed RT was pulled off its platform effective 2 March and “not be carried on the DStv platform until further notice”.
“Sanctions imposed on Russia have led to the global distributor of the channel ceasing to provide the broadcast feed to all suppliers, including MultiChoice,” it said.
MultiChoice relies on satellite backhaul links to receive its programming. It also distributes its channels to viewers using an Intelsat satellite. Intelsat is headquartered in Luxembourg, which is a member state of the EU.
The bans and restrictions on RT and Sputnik come as many nations impose severe sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, a move that is expected to cripple the country’s economy. Harsh sanctions have also been imposed on Putin and his inner circle, as well as many of the country’s oligarchs, who have prospered in the corrupt Russian system.
South Africa is not one of the nations that has imposed sanctions, and the governing ANC has strong historical ties to Russia and continues to have good relations with it.
Meanwhile, communications regulator Icasa also weighed in on RT’s removal from DStv. Icasa said in a statement issued late on Wednesday evening that it will approach MultiChoice about the decision.
“Given the underlying principle of the South African broadcasting system for promoting a plurality of views, it is only prudent for Icasa to enquire with DStv on the rationale for the discontinuation of the RT channel,” said Icasa CEO Keabetswe Modimoeng in the statement.
Icasa said it “would like to put it on record that the broadcast of RT on the DStv platform is and continues to be a commercial agreement between the subscription TV broadcaster, MultiChoice and RT”.
The authority’s role in the broadcasting of RT has been solely limited to channel authorisation as submitted by the licensee (in this case, MultiChoice) and approved by Icasa prior to the channel being introduced.
“This is a regulatory requirement fulfilled by the licensee before introducing any new channel for consumption by the South African public,” the regulator said.
“Our licensing and compliance division has not received any notification by MultiChoice confirming the discontinuation of the channel on its DStv platform. It is in the public interest to know the reasons for this discontinuation since the authorisation was approved by the authority,” said Modimoeng.