South Africans are not paying their TV licences – but new rules could change that

 ·13 May 2021

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) expects to face continued issues around TV licences for the near future, as the majority of TV users in the country refuse to pay their fees.

Presenting to parliament on Wednesday (12 May), SABC chief financial officer Yolande van Biljon said that collection evasion is assumed to average at 75% over its Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period.

Van Biljon added that it costs the SABC around 25 cents for each rand it collects from licences, which equates to 75% collection efficiency.

“After an initial growth rate in collections in full-year 2022, annual growth rates are set to decline to 8% in 2023 and 5% in 2024. The actual cash collected is therefore expected to approximate 90% of revenues at R1 billion full-year 2022.”

In February, van Biljon revealed that only 2.5 million of 9.5 million TV licence holders on its database paid TV licence fees in 2020. The SABC billed around R3 billion in TV licence fees per year but was only able to collect around R791 million.

What is even more telling is that only 68,000 of the 401,000 new TV licence holders in 2019 renewed their licences a year later, she said.

Legislative changes 

One potential ‘saving grace’ for the SABC is a push for new legislative changes around TV licence compliance, which has not been included in budget predictions, van Biljon said.

Presenting to parliament in February, 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.

The SABC has also indicated that a household levy could replace the current TV licence fee system which is seen as antiquated.

“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 in a proposal document published in February.

“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.”

Read: How to cancel your TV licence in South Africa

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