Bad news for TV Licences in South Africa

 ·4 Oct 2023

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) has published the South African Broadcasting Corporation Bill, 2023 (SABC Bill), outlining its plans for the ailing public broadcaster.

This includes a vague mention of how the broadcasted will be funded – with indications that TV Licences will continue to be around for a few more years at least.

The bill was approved by Cabinet this past week and will soon be making its way to parliament for processing. The DCDT gazetted its intention to table the bill on Monday (2 October).

While the bill broadly aims to cement the continued existence of the SABC, it is scant on the details of many aspects that have run the business into the ground.

The SABC reported a massive loss of R1.1 billion for the 2022/23 financial year as advertising revenues tanked and the vast majority of South Africans continued to ignore the TV Licence requirements.

It is estimated that over 9 million South Africans owe upwards of R44 billion in unpaid licence fees – which the SABC is unlikely to ever see.

Thus, funding is one of the most critical areas of the SABC’s model that has failed – and something the new SABC Bill aims to address.

However, the bill has effectively kicked that can further down the road by not laying out any specific changes or proposals.

Instead, it stipulates that the minister in charge must come up with a model within in three years on how the SABC should be funded, kicking the can down the road.

“The Minister must, within three years after the commencement of this Act, develop a funding model framework to ensure that the majority of the Corporations’ funding is sourced from the state-based funding mechanisms,” the department said.

“Before establishing the funding model framework, (the minister must) develop a comprehensive and relevant feasibility study to inform a clear business case for the Corporation’s funding model in consultation with the Minister of Finance; and consult with the Authority before the publication of the draft funding model framework for public comments.”

In the meantime, TV Licences will remain a firm part of the picture.

Until a new funding model is developed and approved, the bill states that the SABC will source funding from:

  • Any money paid to the Corporation for advertisement;
  • Any money received by way of subscription;
  • Any money received by way of sponsorships;
  • Collection of licence fees;
  • Moneys appropriated for that purpose by Parliament;
  • Any money received by way donation; or
  • Any other amounts to which the Corporation is or may become entitled.

While TV Licences look like they will be sticking around for longer, it is clearly not a reliable source of income for the SABC, and changes are coming. South Africans will just have to wait longer to see which direction the government goes.

The current thinking is to do away with TV Licences entirely and instead replace the failed system with a household levy. This has been the proposal that enjoys the most political support, and has been touted by the ANC and department players since 2020.

Previous proposals for this levy have been that it be technology-neutral and based on a household’s ability to access SABC services. This means households will be charged the TV Licence tax even if they don’t watch the SABC’s content or own a TV.

It has been suggested that the collection of this levy be handled by SARS.

Other avenues being explored in making the SABC commercially viable is expanding its reach and service offering – with proposals that it be given a legislative mandate to operate satellite television, radio, and Internet services internationally.

The full bill can be seen below:

Read: New ‘TV Licence tax’ for South Africa could be coming soon

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