The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies has proposed a revamp of South Africa’s current Broadcasting Act in an effort to boost the powers of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
In a white paper published last week, the department said the Broadcasting Act will change to the ‘South African Broadcasting Corporation Act’ and government will amend the legislation to ‘reflect the public broadcasting service role to be played by the SABC in the growing audiovisual content services market in South Africa’.
These amendments will include changes to the TV licence fee section of the Act, the department said. It proposes:
- Broadening the definition and the collection system for television licences;
- Strengthening enforcement mechanisms and penalties for non-payment.
Section 27 (5) of the current Broadcasting Act already allows the SABC to pursue much stricter punishments for people who fail to pay up their licence – although this is rarely enforced.
Specifically, a person who fails to comply with any lawful demand made by an inspector, is guilty of an offence in relation to each television set in respect of which the offence is committed and is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding R500 in relation to each such offence or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
However, the SABC says it is currently difficult and impractical to implement these measures due to socio-economic and political factors.
South Africans not paying
The SABC says TV licence cash collections were severely impacted during the coronavirus lockdown as its usual collection methods were closed.
In a presentation to parliament in September, the national broadcaster said that Debt Collection Agencies (DCAs) commenced collections in the last week of May 2020 and considerable improvement was recorded in June and July 2020 compared to prior months.
“TV Licences’ cash for all the revenue streams started to improve slightly in the month of June, the period where many restrictions were eased and suppliers were able to operate,” it said.
“However, owing to the economic climate which has had an effect on licence holders’ disposal of cash, compliance levels have not improved and are expected to steadily decline for the remainder of 2020.”
The SABC said that TV licence fees collections are pursued on a monthly basis despite all the challenges faced. It added that there are plans underway to minimise the shortfall in cash collections.
These include new marketing campaigns, developments in technology requirements, campaigns to increase debit orders, and settlements of licence fees in arrears.
The broadcaster said that its collection process is executed internally prior to handover to DCAs. These processes are repeated throughout the month depending on the client’s payment patterns. Thereafter unpaid accounts are handed over for debt collection after 60 days, it said.
A TV Licence is valid for twelve months and renewed at the end of the licensing period.
“Licence holders who have not made payment during the renewal phase will be referred to debt collectors 60 days after the renewal date. This is the only recourse available to the SABC to pursue payments from non-compliant licence holders.”