SABC doubles down on TV licence tax in South Africa

 ·22 Nov 2021

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has doubled down on its plans to scrap the traditional TV licence model in South Africa in favour of a new public media levy.

Presenting to parliament this past week, the national broadcaster said that the new levy would be device-independent and apply to all households and businesses.

It would also be based on whether South Africans can access the content, not just whether they watch it. South Africans would therefore be required to pay the levy even if they don’t watch SABC content – simply being able to access it, on any device, is enough.

The SABC noted that the current TV licence model is based on ownership of a TV set and is thus outdated and will make collections more complicated. It added that developments in technology meant that people could access television content through many different devices and platforms.

However, it will provide for an exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners, it said.

The proposed change comes as the SABC continues to grapple with a culture of non-payment, with the vast majority of South Africans refusing to pay their TV licences.

Data for the 2021 financial year shows that the evasion rate currently sits at 82.1%. Overall, the SABC said that 2.2 million TV licence holders managed to settle their fees in full or in part against a known database of 10.3 million television licence holders.

Under current regulations, first-time applicants for a television licence must pay the full annual fee of R265. Renewals must then be made annually before the licence expires, with users given the option of paying R264 each year or R28 in monthly instalments.

The introduction of a tax has already received support from civil society group Outa, which says the SABC is a vital public service and should be funded accordingly.

In September, the group presented to parliament 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.

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.”

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