DStv operator MultiChoice could be the official broadcaster of the SABC’s 24-hour news channel.

But this will happen only if communications sector regulator Icasa grants MultiChoice a licence for the channel.

According to a review drafted by the SABC legal department and seen by The Star, the SABC has signed an exclusive agreement with MultiChoice to air the public broadcaster’s 24-hour news channel.

The agreement will run over a period of five years, starting on April 1, and the channel will be broadcast in southern Africa and parts of the DRC, Tanzania and Angola.

According to the document, MultiChoice will pay a once-off R10 million fee when the channel is launched as a contribution to start-up costs.

It would also pay an annual fee of R15m, pro rata monthly.

MultiChoice has also invested technical equipment worth R5m “to enable continual distribution of the channel or signal”.

Pressure is on the SABC to meet performance standards or face MultiChoice terminating the contract with three months’ written notice. The conditions are that they must first give the SABC written notice noting their dissatisfaction and meet to discuss remedial action.

“If there is no improvement of an amount equal to 15 percent over a total period of 60 days, then MultiChoice shall be entitled, before expiry of the term, to cancel the contract on three months’ written notice to the SABC,” the document states.

The contract can also be cancelled before it expires if either party is guilty of, among others, breaching the confidentiality clause or a non-remedial material breach.

MultiChoice will be allowed to buy advertising space on SABC services at a minimum of R1.5m over a three-month period, but the advertising is limited to brand advertising.

The contract specifically excludes channel- and TV programme-specific advertising.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago declined to provide further details about the deal, saying he wanted to protect the SABC’s “confidential processes”.

“We are not going to be pushed into exposing our plans to our competitors…

“We have also learnt from experience that if we indicated a suggested date of any project and we are unable to meet the date that was set by us, we then get labelled as having failed,” he said.

Commentators have raised concern over the decision to award MultiChoice the broadcast rights.

They say access to the news channel will be denied to a large proportion of the population who don’t have satellite TV at home.