South Africa can expect an SABC 2.0 built by new funding

Unprecedented market conditions and evolution in technologies are responsible for the current precarious position of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), says communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Responding in a National Assembly plenary on Tuesday (1 December), Ndabeni-Abrahams said that the national broadcaster was also impacted by state capture.

“A large proportion of the problems are market-related and require (government) to remodel the SABC as the public broadcaster in a multi-channel and digital environment. (We need) to rebuild the public broadcaster we want.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams said that the national broadcaster’s problems are not unique, with broadcasters in Europe and other parts of the world dealing with similar issues.

The minister said by far the largest issue for the SABC is finding an appropriate funding model, with the current mix of advertising, government grants and TV licence fees not able to sustain current content demands.

She said this has been exacerbated by decreased government spending, a challenging Covid-19 environment and increased role players in the sector.

“Consistent with ongoing international trends, the issue of designing an appropriate funding model is critical.” She said that it is ANC policy that the broadcaster be predominantly funded by private means.

Government allocated R3.2 billion to the SABC in 2019/20, which it received in two tranches – R2.1 billion in October 2019, and R1.1 billion in March 2020.

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies also recently highlighted plans to extend the payment of TV licence fees to include streaming services.

The proposal is contained in the department’s white paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services policy framework, which is currently open for public comment.

In terms of the Broadcasting Act, the public is required to pay a TV license fee for viewing “broadcasting services” which includes subscription services like DSTV. The purchase of a TV, regardless of whether one watches the SABC on it or not requires the payment of a license fee for any ‘broadcasting services’.

In the “traditional” sense, a “broadcasting service” is limited to content viewed on a TV set.

Given the emergence of streaming services like Netflix, Apple +, Showmax, Amazon Prime and others, the White Paper broadens definition of a broadcasting service to include online broadcasting services.

By implication, that would require the payment of a license fee for the viewing any “broadcasting services” which would include a streaming services, regardless of the device on which it is viewed.

Court victory over jobs

The Labour Court of South Africa has dismissed the application by the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) to declare the SABC’s retrenchment process as invalid.

The SABC plans to retrench up to 400 employees – a figure which it said must be cut in order for the company to improve its dire financial situation.

BEMAWU had applied to the court to declare the ongoing Section 189 process at the state broadcaster invalid, and it also called for the withdrawal of redundancy letters sent to SABC employees.

“The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is pleased with today’s judgement by the Labour Court of South Africa, in the matter pertaining to BEMAWU and the SABC,” the SABC said in a statement.

“The Labour Court dismissed, with costs, BEMAWU’s application to declare the Section 189 consultation process as irregular and invalid as well the withdrawal of the redundancy letters.”

The public broadcaster said this decision validated its retrenchment process and proved that the Section 189 process had been procedurally fair and afforded all stakeholders ample opportunity to engage meaningfully.

“The SABC conducted 16 consultative sessions over 4 months with multiple stakeholders, 7 of those were facilitated by independent CCMA commissioners,” it said.

“The SABC used these sessions as a platform to meaningfully engage in a joint consensus-seeking process. The SABC is committed to a fair and transparent process.”

Read: Government moves to introduce rules around Netflix and other services in South Africa

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South Africa can expect an SABC 2.0 built by new funding