TV licence changes planned for South Africa

 ·3 Mar 2022

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) says that the introduction of a new TV licence scheme in South Africa is one of the key interventions that will need to be introduced for the national broadcaster to become financially viable.

In a presentation to parliament on Wednesday (2 March), the SABC said that its turnaround plan had largely been successful in bringing general stability to the national broadcaster, but that declining revenue was a concern for the group going forward.

SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini said the current proposal is to replace the current TV licence system with what will be known as a ‘public media levy‘. This will include a component where subscription companies (such as Multichoice and DStv) can assist in collections.

This change is very important as licences are still one of the major streams of revenue for the SABC alongside commercial agreements, he said.

Other proposed changes include:

  • Changing existing regulations so that the SABC can sell its content to other players at a higher price;
  • Reducing the signal distribution costs that the SABC pays to Sentech;
  • Receiving additional payments from government departments. Makhathini said that part of the SABC’s mandate is to cover events and topics in a variety of languages that will never to be profitable. To assist with this, he said the respective government departments should pay the SABC a stipend to continue offering these services.

New tax

The national broadcaster has previously 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The SABC has warned that the current TV licence model is based on ownership of a TV set and is thus outdated and will make collections more complicated.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.

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.

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