Law to change SABC TV licence system approved by Cabinet
Cabinet has approved the publication of the SABC Bill of 2020 for public comment and consultation.
While the Bill has not yet been published, a report from the Government Communications and Information System regarding the Cabinet meeting stated that the Bill proposes reforms in the SABC’s funding model and the TV licensing system.
The SABC and Department of Communications and Digital Technologies have presented two competing models to Parliament to reform how the broadcaster is funded. These are:
- A new tax referred to as a “household levy“.
- Keeping the TV licence, expanding it to include smartphones and computers, and forcing private broadcasters to collect TV licence fees on the SABC’s behalf.
SABC CFO Yolande van Biljon told Parliament earlier this year that the proportion of households that do not bother to pay for a TV licence is astronomical — with the broadcaster seeing an “evasion rate” of 76%.
To increase the TV licence compliance rate, the Department of Communications wants private broadcasters to be forced to collect TV licence fees from their subscribers.
It argued that South Africa’s Broadcasting Act already allows third parties to collect TV licence fees on behalf of the state broadcaster.
The department specifically wants this responsibility to fall to the dominant subscription video entertainment service in South Africa. Currently, this is DStv, operated by MultiChoice.
MultiChoice has rejected the government’s proposal.
“Our position is very clear. We can’t be held responsible for collecting money on behalf of a government entity,” the group CEO of MultiChoice, Calvo Mawela, said during an investor call in June.
MultiChoice raised the following concerns in its formal response opposing the new law:
- DStv is a competitor to the SABC, and collecting fees on its behalf can’t be justified.
- There are less intrusive ways to get customers to pay their TV licences.
- DStv is required to protect the privacy of its customers, and the proposed law may contravene POPIA.
- This would overburden commercial broadcasters with a duty that the state should perform.
Mawela has supported the idea to replace the current TV licence system with a device-independent, technology-neutral household levy for public broadcasting.
According to the SABC, the household levy proposal is founded on the fact that every single South African household has the realistic ability to access public broadcasting content.
This includes analogue free-to-air TV and radio platforms, digital terrestrial television, direct-to-home satellite TV, or online streaming services.
“Therefore, the levy is linked to the public’s ability to access public broadcasting content rather than on the consumption of that content,” the SABC stated.
In addition to the SABC’s funding model and the TV licensing system, the SABC Bill also proposes to streamline the SABC board.
Cabinet said that this would strengthen the responsibilities and accountability of the board.
Once passed into law, the Bill will result in the repeal of the current Broadcasting Act of 1999.