Government proposes new household tax to help fund SABC

The Department of Communications has updated parliament on the status of the SABC on Tuesday (23 February), outlining some of the ‘quick wins’ and long-term strategies it is considering to help get the embattled state broadcaster back on track.

A key part of the presentation is a ‘robot’ slide – a list of interventions that outlines some of the main proposals the department is looking at.

While the department did not discuss all of the interventions in depth, the proposals are relatively self-explanatory and include:

  • Reinvorgatring the SABC by buying compelling content, upgrading infrastructure and reducing debt;
  • Improving TV licence collections through deals with other broadcasters such as MultiChoice and its DStv platform;
  • A move towards an online platform including the launch of more streaming services;
  • Enforcing rules around must-carry and sports regulations;
  • Moving the SABC away from its ‘legacy apartheid’ structure towards more successful models such as those employed by the BBC;
  • Funding further public service media through a household levy.

Broadcaster collections 

Presenting the presentation to parliament, deputy minister of Communications Pinky Kekana said that if companies like Multichoice can be obligated to collect TV licence fees on behalf of the SABC, it could mitigate some of the financial issues facing the state broadcaster.

Kekana added that this would not be limited to Multichoice and that other broadcasters may also assist in collecting. In an October 2020 briefing, the SABC indicated that this could include streaming services such as Netflix.

The SABC said that this would be similar to municipalities collecting traffic fines and motor vehicle licence disks. The SABC said that the expanded definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be adjusted to current realities.

Household levy 

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 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.”

Must-carry and sports rule

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 Department has also proposed new rules which would force DStv to make certain sports free-to-air to address the public interest.

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Government proposes new household tax to help fund SABC