Government pushes ahead with TV licences for Netflix, and other changes

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is set to present its proposal to extend the payment of TV licence fees to include streaming services to parliament on Wednesday (25 November).

The proposal is contained in the department’s white paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services policy framework which is currently open for public comment.

In terms of the Broadcasting Act, the public is required to pay a TV license fee for viewing “broadcasting services” which includes subscription services like DSTV. The purchase of a TV, regardless of whether one watches the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) on it or not requires the payment of a license fee for any “broadcasting services.”

In the “traditional” sense, a “broadcasting service” is limited to content viewed on a TV set.

Given the emergence of streaming services like Netflix, Apple +, Showmax, Amazon Prime and others, the White Paper broadens definition of a “broadcasting service” to include online broadcasting services.

By implication, that would require the payment of a license fee for the viewing any “broadcasting services” which would include a streaming services, regardless of the device on which it is viewed.

Opposition 

The Democratic Alliance said it is ‘unequivocally opposed’ to any efforts that would require any additional payment of TV license fees.

“The public has already had to suffer the consequences of the billions in bailouts to the SABC has received via the public purse,” the opposition party said.

“The SABC must find creative ways to self-sustain, and break even without requiring the public to fork out any more money.”

The DA said that the SABC has promised to take cognisance of public outcry about the proposed license fee and will make its own submission to the department regarding the proposal.

“We trust that it will present a plan that will mean that the public broadcaster will to stay afloat and break even without bailouts or making the public pay even more money to sustain it.”

Some of the other concerns which the party has highlighted in the draft framework include:

  • A Code of Conduct for streaming services, with disciplinary measures if it is not adhered to. Given that most streaming are international companies and not on South African soil this is pie-in-the-sky and unworkable. This could put government on a collision course with streaming services and barren harvest litigation it will not win, leading to more wasteful expenditure.
  • The establishment of a team that would be able to blacklist, block, require banks to halt transfers of payments of subscribers of international streaming services. This China-esque “censorship bureau” stands in stark violation to the right of all South Africans to a free-flow of information, and would not meet the constitutional standard of the limitation of this right by government.

South Africans until 30 November to submit commentary on the proposals. Comment can be submitted by email to [email protected] or in writing to:

The Acting- Director-General, Department of Communications and Digital Technologies

Block A3, IParioll Office Park, 1166 Park Street, Hatfield, Pretoria

Private Bag X860, Pretoria, 0001


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Government pushes ahead with TV licences for Netflix, and other changes