Pay-TV service provider, the StarTimes Group, is about getting into stormy waters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). StarTimes, an active playere in Africa’s subscription TV market, is caught in the middle of a political dispute between two senior politicians in the country.
On one side, there’s the head of Congo’s Post & Telecoms Ministry, Kin-Kiey Mulumba, who is accusing the Chinese-owned broadcaster of “operating illegally” in the country. His comments are being challenged by the government’s Media Minister Lambert Mende, who is supporting StarTimes’ presence in the country.
Mulumba’s ministry accuses StarTimes of “hijacking” frequencies and claiming to be using DTT (digital technology television), while in fact DTT is non-existent in the DRC.
Mende responded with a fierce letter to ‘protect’ StarTimes, accusing Mulumba of usurping his ministry’s powers and poking his nose in the affairs that he had no authority and control.
The two ministers are members of the committee appointed by Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo to oversee and pilot the country’s digital broadcasting process. Mende is the committee chairperson while Mulumba is his deputy.
The ‘war’ has brought confusion around StarTimes operations in the DRC, which began in July 2013. Also wrapped up in the controversy is public broadcaster RTNC, which argues that its decision to support StarTimes was purely business. However, local media outlets have also joined the ‘war’, slamming StarTimes for – in the words of one publication – its “lies and deceit”, while StarTimes’ rivals are watching every development closely and perhaps hoping that StarTimes – the country’s cheapest pay TV operator – would collapse and help them mop up the deprived subscribers.