Despite the controversial suggestion that TV licence fees be charged to users of platforms like Netflix, the draft white paper titled “A New Vision for South Africa 2020” also has a lot of good suggestions.
This is according to Kate Skinner, Director of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF).
Skinner’s comments come following a presentation to Parliament by Deputy Communications Minister Pinky Kekana regarding this white paper.
According to Kekana, the SABC has argued that the current definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be adjusted to current realities.
“We are not only limiting it to TV. We also have other platforms where people consume content and in all of those areas, that is where we should look at how we are able to get SABC licence fees from those gadgets,” said Kekana.
This suggests that the SABC wants users who watch content on devices including laptops and smartphones to pay-TV licences.
Attitude towards online streaming
Skinner said that the government’s attitude towards online services has good intentions.
“I think the overarching principle put forward by the Draft White Paper that you want to level the competitive environment between traditional broadcasting services and content services provided over the Internet is a good one,” she said.
“The details of how that is done however are tricky. It needs a lot of debate.”
Skinner said that while there was an overwhelmingly negative response to charging online streaming subscribers licence fees, it is still critical that the funding of the SABC is discussed.
“There is a lot of opposition to the licence fee but then we need to come up with an alternative. Public funding is critical as part of a mixed funding model,” said Skinner.
She said she agrees with her colleague, Justine Limpitlaw, who tweeted the following:
“The TV licence fee is outdated but the need for a publicly funded SABC remains. Bottom line, the vast majority of our people rely on the SABC for their news and information.”
“If you underfund the SABC you underfund democracy because you underfund the ability to hold power accountable and help citizens to make informed choices at the ballot box.”
Draft white paper is not all bad
Skinner argued that if one looks past the TV licence proposal, a lot of the content in the Draft White Paper published on the topic of the SABC is actually valuable.
“I think there are a lot of good suggestions in the Draft White Paper,” said Skinner.
“These include looking at the sports rights issue and ensuring that the public broadcaster gets access to these rights at an improved rate. The payment for sports rights has been financially crippling for the SABC.”
Skinner also noted that looking at, and potentially amending, the “must-carry” regulations is also a good suggestion.
This refers to the fact that subscription broadcasters must carry the SABC channels, and do so without any payment to the national broadcaster.
“The SABC should gain revenue from these channels as subscription broadcasters have derived significant financial benefits,” argued Skinner.
“There should be commercial negotiations between the parties.”
Internet platforms need to contribute
Izak Minnaar, Chair of the SANEF Access to Information and Media Policy Subcommittee, told MyBroadband that South Africa should follow the lead of EU and many other countries where Internet platforms and intermediaries are being made to contribute in some way to the sustainability of public service content production in the media industry.
“Such steps will help to address the digital inequities which developed with the rise of Internet platforms and should assist in safeguarding the public’s right to access comprehensive, fair and balanced content and a sustainable media industry,” said Minnaar.
He noted, however, that the manner in which this should be achieved is still up for discussion.
“Exactly how this should happen will be part of the debate going forward, guided by the constitutional principles of freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to access to information in the public interest.”