Big changes for DStv, Netflix and the SABC in South Africa – deadline extended

 ·4 Sep 2023

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has extended the comment period for its draft white paper on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services and Online Content Safety.

The white paper opened for comment at the end of July 2023, with the window expected to close this Friday, 8 September.

However, the department said it has received a flood of requests from stakeholders impacted by the policy proposals to extend the deadline, which is has granted.

The comment window has been extended to 9 October 2023.

Big changes

The draft paper presents the government’s plans for big changes in the audio and audiovisual content services (AAVCS) sector in South Africa, which includes everything from traditional broadcasters like the SABC to more modern on-demand streaming services like Netflix.

One of the most notable changes proposed in the document is a complete overhaul of the licencing regime for AAVCS.

Digital services and streamers are not currently required to hold any type of content licence in South Africa, putting them at odds with more traditional services like the SABC and DStv that do.

This means that services like Netflix and Disney+ are not under the same scrutiny as licenced operators, nor are they beholden to specific public interest licence clauses.

Under the regime put forward in the proposal, all key players in the sector will have to be licenced and beholden to local conditions – including certain local content requirements.

Also key to this would a type of “local content tax” which would be imposed on international operators like Netflix and Disney+ to ensure that South African industries are supported.

The white paper also takes a big swing at sport broadcast rights in the country – something which has been a contentious issue for many years.

The paper proposes that a new set of regulations be introduced to give the regulator clear guidance in legislation on the criteria to use in determining the list of sports that qualify as being in the “national interest” – while also extending the scope to include other events of major public importance or cultural significance for example, presidential inaugurations or state funerals.

While the government doesn’t plan to interfere with broadcasters’ rights to bid for licences – as these can be fundamental to the commercial viability of certain services – some sporting events will need to be sub-licenced to free-to-air broadcasters.

The white paper also addresses the elephant in the room when it comes to South Africa’s broadcast landscape: the SABC, which is suffering financially and struggling to compete with the growing array of digital platforms that offer content.

The white paper addresses several key proposals around the SABC, including its position in legislation, how it should function in a more competitive environment, as well as how it should be funded.

Like many state-run entities, the SABC has proved to be more of a financial burden on the national fiscus than a benefit, running at a mutli-million-rand loss and garnering no support from the South African people who refuse to pay for their TV licences.

To improve the SABC’s financials, the white paper reaches high and proposes that the SABC have a mandate in legislation to operate international satellite television, radio, and Internet services, under the name SABC International Broadcast Services or SABC Foreign Broadcasting Service.

In addition to this, some stakeholders suggested that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) gets involved in bringing in fees for the public broadcaster.

It has been suggested that the SABC do away with the TV Licence regime and instead replace it with a Public Broadcast Service levy, collected and ring-fenced by SARS.

The department said this, and other proposals, are being considered in a new SABC Bill.

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