DStv pushes back on controversial TV licence changes for South Africa

 ·17 Jun 2021

MultiChoice and its pay-tv operator DStv have pushed back on a proposal that would see it collect TV licence fees on behalf of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).

The proposal has previously been mooted as a means of improving collections – similar to municipalities collecting traffic fines and motor vehicle licence disks.

In an investor call on Friday (11 June), Group chief executive Calvo Mawela said that the plan is not feasible as the company can’t be held responsible for collecting monies on behalf of the SABC, Channel24 reported.

“Our position is simply very clear: We can’t be held responsible for collecting money on behalf of the SABC. The SABC itself needs to find a way to collect such monies.”

“We further made it clear that we think this is an old way of thinking around a public service mandate.

“There are much more better ways of finding public service funding that we have seen all over the world where people have moved away from a device into a public service contribution wherein tax payers are able to contribute a little bit and the public broadcaster is able to survive,” Mawela said.

Formal opposition

In a submission to a department of communications white paper earlier this year, MultiChoice said that it does not support any efforts to prolong the current ineffective TV licence fee collection model.

This includes increasing the list of devices beyond TV sets to include, for example, mobile phones, game consoles, tablets or set-top boxes.

The group said it also opposes any suggestion to extend the obligation to collect TV licence fees, in respect of TV sets or devices, to third parties not involved in the sale of TV sets.

“Some have suggested that subscription broadcasters and streaming platforms should be required to collect TV licence fees. MultiChoice is firmly opposed to any such obligation. Such a requirement is fraught with problems, both at the level of principle and practical implementation.

“Such an obligation would be out of line with international best practice and completely inappropriate and unfeasible, and should not be given any serious consideration.

“In our view, it is no less absurd than requiring subscription broadcasters to collect electricity bill payments because subscribers require electricity to view pay-TV or streaming services. Subscription broadcasters and streaming services simply cannot be expected to administer, verify or enforce TV licence fee collections.”

Some of the specific concerns raised include:

  • DStv is effectively a commercial player and competitor to the SABC – how could collecting fees on its behalf be justified;
  • There are far less intrusive ways to get customers to pay for their licences;
  • DStv and streaming services are required to protect the privacy of their customers. Pursuing this course would likely contravene the POPI Act and draw the ire of customers;
  • This would overburden private players with a duty that should be performed by the state.

Read: Multichoice reports big profit boost – despite losing Premium subscribers

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