The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) plans to make a number of submissions on government’s new white paper for content services in South Africa, with the national broadcasting considering a number of changes to TV licences and broadcast rules.
The SABC said that its submission on the white paper will include:
- The new licensing framework for audio and audiovisual content services;
- The funding model for the SABC and mechanisms for funding the public broadcaster’s unfunded public mandate;
- The proposed repeal of the controversial ‘Must Carry’ provisions;
- The proposed inquiry on the current share of advertising revenue for Pay-TV operators and whether it is appropriate for the viability of free-to-air services;
- The consolidation of government and institutional funding mechanisms for film and television productions; and
- A range of other related broadcasting policy issues.
“The SABC notes that the publication of the draft white paper has sparked an intense public debate about the SABC’s current TV licence fee, how it should be defined and collected and whether it should be levied at all,” it said.
“The importance of this debate for the future funding of public broadcasting cannot be overstated as a sustainable, independent and credible public broadcaster is integral to the health of our constitutional democracy.”
The public broadcaster said that it ‘takes cognisance of the wide range of views expressed’ on the need for a licence fee or a public broadcasting levy.
It further called on the public and all interested parties to also make their comments to the policy by 30 November 2020.
“Greater public input can only further enrich the final policy process and outcomes,” it said.
“The SABC will comment further on these policy issues after the SABC’s submission has been finalised internally and lodged with the DCDT at the end of November.”
Proposed licence changes
The SABC’s comment comes after it mooted the possibility of expanding the definition of ‘televisions’ to other electronic devices – including smartphones, tablets and computers.
Speaking to MyBroadband, SABC Head of TV Licences Sylvia Tladi confirmed the SABC was looking at improving compliance as well as expanding the definition of the television set to include devices such as smartphones.
“We are of the view that the regulation is outdated,” Tladi said.
“Bear in mind that the Broadcasting Act was last amended in 1999, whereas the TV licence regulations are 16 years old. In that time, there has been a significant development in the manner in which content is being consumed.”
“We cannot play in the media environment as much as everyone else is doing because the legislation is outdated,” she said.
Currently, a TV licence is only required when purchasing a television which is capable of receiving a broadcast signal. A TV licence is valid for twelve months and renewed at the end of the licensing period.
Tladi said that the SABC was also considering working with companies like MultiChoice and Netflix to improve compliance in terms of TV licence fees.
“We would like obligations to be placed on companies that sell set-top boxes, decoders, to be able to ensure that when people apply for a subscription, there needs to be a process where it can be validated that they do have a current TV Licence,” Tladi said.
This aligns with a presentation to parliament’s portfolio committee on 20 October, in which the national broadcaster said that it needs a number of key regulatory reforms to remain viable in South Africa’s changing media environment.
The SABC said that regulations are needed around pay service providers like Multichoice (DStv) and video on demand providers like Netflix to collect TV licences on behalf of the SABC.
It said that this would be similar to municipalities collecting traffic fines and motor vehicle licence disks.
Removal of must-carry rule
In its presentation, the SABC has also called for the removal of the must-carry rule. These regulations ensure that all subscription broadcasters with more than 30 channels must carry the SABC’s three free-to-air television channels.
However, contrary to the enabling legislation which provides for “commercial negotiations” between the parties, the regulations state the SABC “must offer its television programmes, at no cost,” to subscription broadcasters.
The SABC said that it instead wants to negotiate with pay-TV providers to pay for these channels as it noted that the current regulations meant the deal was ‘one-sided’ in favour of Multichoice.
The SABC said that national sports (rights) must be made available to the SABC at ‘a very affordable price’.
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.”