TV Licence fees must become compulsory in South Africa – eMedia CEO

TV licence fees should be compulsory for every South African household and the SABC must be supported by the government, according to eMedia Holdings CEO Khalik Sherrif.

Sherrif was speaking at a recent parliamentary committee meeting regarding the revision of broadcasting regulations and their potential effects on the SABC, which is facing a financial crisis and a controversial retrenchment process.

He noted that eMedia is the only private free-to-air broadcaster in South Africa and said they wish and hope for a very strong SABC.

“Licence fees are compulsory in many parts of Europe, and we must try to make that compulsory here,” Sherrif said.

He noted that around 15 million households in South Africa, 3 million of which were indigent. This leaves around 12 million households, of which 10 million would pay TV licences if made compulsory, he said.

“You must make it compulsory – that is the important thing,” Sherrif said. “I think the government should make it its duty to find a way to get South Africans to commit to paying a TV licence.”

He added that it would be ideal if the government had the money to fund the SABC entirely.

“I wish we were in better circumstances where we did not waste or lose so much money in the last couple of years and the state could afford to fund the SABC 60%, 70%, 80%, or 100% of the way, because I think it costs in the region of about R8 billion to R9 billion per year to run the SABC,” Sherrif said.

He summarised the position of eMedia on the state of the SABC as follows:

  • The SABC needs to be supported and must be strong.
  • South Africa cannot follow the model of the UK, for example, where there is no advertising on the public broadcaster. In the South African context that is not feasible.

Sherrif also said noted that even if the SABC were to receive all the television advertising budget available in South Africa (around R6 billion), it would still not be able to break even and deliver on their mandate.

“Now, you all know what it costs to run the SABC. Even if the SABC took all that advertising, they will still not be able to afford to meet the mandate they are given.”

TV Licence fees for Netflix

The Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework proposes to modify existing broadcasting regulations to expand the scope of TV licences.

As it currently stands, the definition of “broadcasting services” applies to content viewed on a television.

The department now wants to broaden the definition of a “broadcasting service” to include online broadcasting services such as Netflix.

If this proposal goes through, it may mean that people will require a TV licence to watch streaming services like Netflix, Apple+, Showmax, and Amazon Prime.

This is part of an attempt to increase TV licence revenue and compliance, which has come under pressure over the past few years and drained the SABC’s revenue.

Comments on the draft white paper are open until 15 February 2021.

Now read: How the bloated SABC can save itself from disaster

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TV Licence fees must become compulsory in South Africa – eMedia CEO