Government clears path for TV licence changes in South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet has approved the publication of the SABC Bill of 2020 for public comment and consultation.

Once passed into law, the bill will result in the repeal of the current Broadcasting Act. It also seeks to strengthen the efficiency of the operations of the public broadcaster, it said.

The bill proposes, amongst other changes, the streamlining of the board of the SABC, which will strengthen its responsibilities and accountability.

It also proposes reforms in the SABC’s funding model and the TV licensing system.

While the details of these reforms will only be made clear once the bill is officially gazetted, the draft legislation could prove to be a serious boost for the SABC, which has historically struggled with TV licence collections.

Presenting to parliament in May, the national broadcaster said that it 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.

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.

Push for changes

To address these issues, the SABC has pushed for new legislative changes around TV licence compliance.

The SABC has previously said 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 an 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.”

The group has also suggested that if third-party 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.

Read: DStv pushes back on controversial TV licence changes for South Africa

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Government clears path for TV licence changes in South Africa