Big changes for TV licences in South Africa to be decided in the coming months

Communications and Digital Technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams says that government’s proposal to expand the range of devices on which TV licence fees would be payable will be decided on in the coming months as part of a public consultation process.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, Ndabeni-Abrahams said that the proposal was first approved by cabinet in September 2020 as part of a Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-Visual Content Services.

“The department has since gazetted the Draft White Paper for public comments, which have now been extended till 15 February 2021 to give the stakeholders enough time to engage with the complex proposals raised within the policy framework,” she said.

The minister said that section 4.2.2.3. of the draft White Paper, with reference to the SABC and licence matters, proposes that:

”Provisions of the financial matters and staffing of the Corporation are necessary, although they require review and consequential amendments to the TV licence fee section to broaden the definition and collection system for television licences and to strengthen enforcement mechanisms and penalties of non-payment”.

“Achievement of the above will be determined by the submissions expected from all South Africans towards the draft White Paper,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

Changes needed

SABC Head of TV Licences Sylvia Tladi has said that the SABC is 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“We are of the view that the regulation is outdated,” Tladi said.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“We cannot play in the media environment as much as everyone else is doing because the legislation is outdated,” she said.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.


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Big changes for TV licences in South Africa to be decided in the coming months