How a ‘SABC household tax’ would work

The SABC has published its policy submissions on the draft Audiovisual Content Services white paper, providing further details on its plans to introduce a household levy to help fund the broadcaster.

The group indicated that this levy could replace the current TV licence fee system which has seen declining collections in recent years.

“The current TV licence fee system should be scrapped and replaced with a device-independent, tech-neutral household levy for public broadcasting, which would levy all households, with exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners,” it said.

“The household levy is founded on the fact that every single South African household has the realistic ability to access public broadcasting content, whether via analogue free-to-air TV and radio platforms or via DTT, DTH, the internet and streaming services through several mobile apps.”

This means that the levy will be linked to the public’s ability to access public broadcasting content rather than on the consumption of that content.

It noted that a similar household levy system was upheld as constitutional by the German Constitutional Court in 2018 as it was “specifically for the financing of public service programming that is fundamental to democracy.”

“The German court also found that even if a household does not use public broadcasting, they have a “realistic ability to use it”.

“It should be noted that, despite reports to the contrary, the SABC is not in favour of licensing or charging any devices or technology in lieu of a public broadcasting levy.”

Other streams

Another proposal which the SABC is considering will see other media companies collect TV licences on behalf of the national broadcaster.

Presenting to parliament last week, 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 The SABC said that the expanded definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be adjusted to current realities.

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 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.”


Read: Massive drop in TV licence payments as SABC pushes for new ways to collect

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How a ‘SABC household tax’ would work