StarTimes DRC caught in political ‘war’ between ministers

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Kinshasa, DR Congo

Pay TV operator StarTimes has been caught in a nasty ‘war’ in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between government spokesperson and minister of media Lambert Mende and his colleague of post, telecoms and ICTs Kin-Kiey Mulumba.

Mulumba’s ministry accuses Chinese-owned StarTimes of operating illegally in the country, ‘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 part 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.

Biztechafrica, as well as local media, have reported that a couple of TV stations in the DRC have turned to StarTimes to digitise their content, and that the public broadcaster RTNC was among these stations.

StarTimes sets a registration fee of US$7 500 for each TV station.

Though the quality of RTNC2’s pictures seem to have been ‘digitised’ and remarkably improved since joining the StarTimes bouquet, Mende has categorically insisted that RTNC contents were not digitised, and therefore RTNC was still using its old analogue technology – all of this meaning that RTNC never made a deal with StarTimes.

Sources at the public broadcaster yesterday refuted Mende’s outburst about the issue, deploring what they described as the politicisation of the issue that was supposed to be purely business.

Local media outlets have also joined the ‘war’, slamming the Chinese-owned company for its ‘lies and deceit’, while StarTimes rivals are  watching every new development of the issue with an eagle’s eyes, perhaps wishing that StarTimes – the country’s cheapest pay TV operator – would collapse and help them rule the Congolese market with an iron-fist.

Despite taking a beating from local newspapers such as AfricaNewsThe Soft International,among others, StarTimes remains defiant and undeterred, failing to either shed the light on the issue or deny that it does not have a DTT technology which it claims to be using.

“This war between two key ministers and StarTimes’ inability to effectively defend itself is sowing a big confusion in our reporting. We don’t know what to write anymore,” a financial journalist told Biztechafrica on condition of anonymity.


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