SABC wants MultiChoice to collect new household tax from DStv subscribers

The SABC wants MultiChoice to collect a proposed public broadcasting household tax – which is intended to replace its current TV Licence fee – from DStv subscribers.

This is according to the public broadcaster’s policy submissions for the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies’ draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services.

The draft policy document has proposed a raft of regulatory changes to the Broadcasting Act, among which it was suggested that streaming-capable devices such as laptops and tablets would carry a TV Licence fee.

The SABC, however, has now stated it is not in favour of licensing or charging any devices or technology in lieu of a public broadcasting levy.

Instead, it said the current TV licence fee system should be scrapped and replaced with a device-independent, tech-neutral household levy for public broadcasting.

“The household levy is founded on the fact that every single South African household has the realistic ability to access public broadcasting content, whether via analogue free-to-air TV and radio platforms or via DTT, DTH, the Internet and streaming services through several mobile apps,” the SABC said.

“Therefore, the levy is linked to the public’s ability to access public broadcasting content rather than on the consumption of that content,” it added.

This tax would be levied on all households, with an exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners.

The broadcaster said that a similar household levy system was upheld as constitutional by the German Constitutional Court in 2018 as it was “specifically for the financing of public service programming that is fundamental to democracy.”

The German court also found that even if a household does not use public broadcasting, they have a “realistic ability to use it”.

DStv should collect household tax

The SABC has further submitted that the current dominant subscription broadcaster, or any future dominant On-Demand Content service provider, should be required to collect the public broadcasting household levy from its subscribers.

Under present circumstances, this would mean that MultiChoice, which operates the largest subscription-based broadcasting service in the country DStv, will have to collect this tax from its customers.

The SABC said this proposal must be seen as a pro-competitive measure in the current market context after “decades of prejudicial legislation and regulation” against it, including:

  • The Must Carry regulations which obliged the SABC to provide its three free-to-air channels to subscription broadcasters for free since 2008.
  • Sports Broadcasting Regulations which failed to protect the public broadcaster from anti-competitive bundling of rights and unfair sublicensing criteria since 2004.
  • The failure by the regulator to implement any limitations on advertising on subscription broadcasters as intended by the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) in 2005.

The SABC said these measures and omissions have had a massively negative impact on the SABC’s finances.

In addition, it maintained the SABC’s freely-provided channels and programming have been used by “a competitor” to build part of its subscription base.

The SABC added that it supports the White Paper proposal to scrap the Must-Carry law.

“This will give the SABC an opportunity to commercially exploit its content through carriage agreements, whilst achieving universal service and access to its services at the same time.

“It is the SABC’s view that the carriage agreements or transmission consents will contribute significantly to the public broadcaster’s revenues.”

SABC to collect the balance

For the remaining households who don’t have DStv, the SABC said it would be responsible for collecting the broadcasting levy.

It said this would be done through a combination of the current methods and a more efficient digital collection system.

This system will be leveraging the SABC’s digital broadcasting, online channels, and its incoming over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform to improve the collection of the broadcasting tax.

However, a move away from the primarily TV retailer collection model would be conditional to the dominant subscription broadcaster being required by law to collect this levy from its subscribers, the SABC added.

A summary of the SABC’s policy submissions on the draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services is embedded below.

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Now read: Tax revolt in South Africa around TV licence fees

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SABC wants MultiChoice to collect new household tax from DStv subscribers