The SABC is a vital public service and should be funded accordingly, says civil society group Outa.
Presenting to parliament on the proposed SABC Bill on Wednesday (22 September), the group said that the current licence system was not fit for purpose and that the national broadcaster should be funded either through a subsidy or a more formalised tax.
“We are advocating for the SABC to be funded with a government subsidy, so we don’t need TV licences, which are uncollectable,” said advocate Stefanie Fick, Outa executive director.
The SABC currently struggles to collect the television licence money and outsources this, she said. “A regular annual grant to SABC from the fiscus could be used to cover at least part of the SABC’s costs.”
Fick said this would provide a more stable revenue stream and, in conjunction with good governance and management, avoid the irregular and disastrous last-minute bailouts.
“Such a regular grant could be funded by cutting wasteful expenditure in other programmes, for example, moving some of the national and provincial funding for political parties, justified as support for democracy, to the SABC, which would provide broader support for democracy.”
Treat it as a tax
Under current regulations, the TV licence fee is set by the minister of communications. However, Outa has also proposed that the licence fee be included as a tax through a money bill that only the finance minister can introduce.
“If television licences are to be retained, Outa believes these are effectively another tax and should be treated as such, through a money bill passed by Parliament rather than a decision on the licence fee made by a single minister,” Fick said.
Outa also believes that the regulatory environment should be changed to strengthen SABC’s commercial sector, which subsidises the public broadcasting sector to some extent, she said.
While TV licence collections have remained a sticking point for several years, the communications department is expected to strengthen regulations through the South African Broadcasting Corporation Bill, which is currently open for public comment.
The bill proposes keeping the current TV licensing scheme and improving compliance through harsher penalties rather than introducing additional taxes and levies.
It also proposes allowing the SABC to appoint inspectors who are empowered to approach households to check the validity of TV licences.