The SABC wants all South African households to pay a R265 ‘TV tax’ – even if you don’t watch TV

 ·8 Mar 2021

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) plans to introduce an annual household levy of R265 on the eight million households currently in its TV licence billing system, the Sunday Times reports.

The SABC said that the levy should apply to all households, including those that use smartphones, tablets and computers to stream TV and radio shows – even if they were not watching SABC programmes.

Instead, the levy would effectively be placed on households who are simply capable of accessing SABC programming.

The levy is expected to generate up to R2 billion a year for the SABC – a lifeline for the embattled national broadcaster which has seen TV licence fee collections dwindle over the last few years.

Indigent households and pensioners would be exempt from paying the levy, with pay-TV subscription services such as Multichoice expected to help with collection on behalf of the national broadcaster.

Presenting to parliament at the end of February, deputy minister of Communications Pinky Kekana said that the expanded definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be adjusted to current realities.

Kekana said that the SABC’s budgetary constraints mean that it now runs the risks of having to rationalise programming which is presented in indigenous languages.

She said that a household levy could help alleviate these concerns, as the SABC could be further funded as public service media.

However, Kekana said that this was just a proposal and that any additional levies and taxes would have to be approved by Finance minister Tito Mboweni.

“We can’t fold our arms and say the status quo must remain when we know our public broadcaster is dwindling. So these are the proposals we must put in the public domain and whether the government can fund us directly from the fiscus or be creative at looking at the household levy.”

TV licence replacement

The SABC has indicated that this household levy could replace the current TV licence fee system which is seen as antiquated.

“The current TV licence fee system should be scrapped and replaced with a device-independent, tech-neutral household levy for public broadcasting, which would levy all households, with exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners,” it said in a proposal document published last month.

“The household levy is founded on the fact that every single South African household has the realistic ability to access public broadcasting content, whether via analogue free-to-air TV and radio platforms or via DTT, DTH, the internet and streaming services through several mobile apps.”

This means that the levy will be linked to the public’s ability to access public broadcasting content rather than on the consumption of that content.

It noted that a similar household levy system was upheld as constitutional by the German Constitutional Court in 2018 as it was “specifically for the financing of public service programming that is fundamental to democracy.”

“The German court also found that even if a household does not use public broadcasting, they have a “realistic ability to use it”.

“It should be noted that, despite reports to the contrary, the SABC is not in favour of licensing or charging any devices or technology in lieu of a public broadcasting levy.”

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