By Khulekani Magubane
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has told the Department of Communications that the SABC bill approved by Cabinet earlier this year needed to “redefine” the television licence regime to put the public service broadcaster on a better footing when it comes to drawing revenue.
The SABC was making submissions to public hearings by the Department of Communications on Monday. The broadcaster recommended a “household levy system” based on the possibility of access to SABC services – rather than actual usage of its services.
The SABC also called for a “pro-competitive measure and regulatory obligation” where “the dominant subscription broadcaster”, i.e. MultiChoice, would be required to collect the public broadcasting household levy from its subscribers on the state-owned broadcaster’s behalf.
The SABC has been working through financial challenges for the better part of a decade and the difficulty it has experienced in collecting television licence fees adds to its already strenuous money troubles.
In its submission, the SABC said the bill also does not provide for further government grant funding for public interest programming. As such, the bill – which was approved by Cabinet in July – does not secure the financial sustainability of the SABC.
“Unfortunately, the SABC Bill retains the outdated TV licence system and does not take into account the SABC’s view that it should be replaced by a technology neutral, public broadcasting household levy that would exempt the indigent and should be part-collected by the dominant pay TV operator,” the SABC said.
The SABC reiterated that the current TV licence system should be scrapped and replaced with a “public broadcasting household levy”.
“The SABC submits that this entire section from the bill is required to be deleted and redrafted to take into account the SABC’s submissions on the introduction of a public broadcasting household levy,” said the SABC.
The broadcaster said it was concerned that the bill retained the TV licence fee regime which is tied to television sets, despite the proposal made by SABC for a complete change. Linking a levy to devices is administratively burdensome and cannot be future-proofed, the submission added.
“As such, a new model of defining a technology-neutral, public broadcasting household levy has been recommended in order to secure a stable revenue source for the SABC’s public service mandate,” the submission said.
The SABC submits that South Africa follow the device-independent German model, while adding our own particular South African market requirements on collection, enforcement and exemptions.
“The SABC recommends that a household levy system based on the possibility of access to SABC services – rather than usage – should be implemented,” the submission said.
The broadcaster said the German household levy model was implemented in 2013 and reaffirmed as constitutional in 2018 by that country’s Federal Constitutional Court.
“The SABC reiterates its submission on that – as a pro-competitive measure and regulatory obligation – the dominant subscription broadcaster should be required to collect the public broadcasting household levy from its subscribers,” the SABC said.
The SABC said that the SABC Bill should be informed by the Draft White Paper for Audio Audiovisual Content Services and the “recommended approach” will create policy certainty and save both the policymaker and stakeholders’ costs of participation in this legislation development process.
“If the Broadcasting Act is repealed by an SABC Act, in isolation of the general policy process, the DCDT would have to amend the SABC Act once the general policy process is completed. In the interests of expediting a harmonised policy process, the SABC has prepared comments on the SABC Bill as gazetted,” the broadcaster said.
The SABC thanked the department for the opportunity to submit written representations and said that it looked forward to further engagement on the finalisation of the audio audiovisual content services policy and the development of industry legislation.