MultiChoice slams SABC plan for DStv to collect TV Licence fees

MultiChoice has slammed a proposal by the SABC that DStv be required to collect TV Licence fees as part of a reform of public broadcasting laws in South Africa.

The proposal from the SABC was revealed in its policy submissions on the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies’ Draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services, which aims to modernise South Africa’s broadcasting regulations.

The public broadcaster has proposed that the current TV licence fee system 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.

As part of this proposal, it wants South Africa’s dominant subscription broadcaster, or any future dominant On-Demand Content service provider in the country, to be be required to collect the public broadcasting household levy from its subscribers.

As it stands, this responsibility would fall to MultiChoice, which operates the largest subscription-based broadcasting service in the country – DStv.

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

“Inappropriate and unfeasible”

A MultiChoice spokesperson told MyBroadband while the company welcomed the Department’s initiative to renew the country’s audio-visual policy, it was against the SABC’s proposition that it should collect TV licence fees.

“We are opposed to any suggestion that subscription broadcasters or on demand services be required to collect TV licence fees,” the spokesperson stated.

According to MultiChoice, there were lots of problems with the proposal. It labelled the solution “completely inappropriate and unfeasible” and maintained it should not be given any serious consideration.

“There are various legal reasons and practical problems why TV licence fees cannot be collected by subscription broadcasters and streaming services,” MultiChoice stated.

One of the issues which could arise would be if people subscribed to multiple services.

“[This] begs the question – which of these services would be responsible for collecting or enforcing payment?” MultiChoice said.

“We believe that the TV licence fee collection challenges cannot be addressed by simply shifting this responsibility to subscription broadcasters and streaming services,” it added.

SARS should collect

The company agreed with the SABC ‘s view that the current TV licence model should be eradicated as it was outdated and not in line with international best practice.

In this regard, however, it said it was in favour of a more effective ring-fenced public broadcasting levy that should be collected by SARS.

“Our financial modelling shows that a flat rate for TV licence fees collected by SARS would far exceed the television licence fees that the SABC collects,” the MultiChoice spokesperson stated.

“If SARS had collected the R265 TV licence fee from taxpayers in the financial year ended March 2019, it would have raised R5.9 billion in total revenue for public service broadcasting, as compared to the total revenue of R968.1 million collected by the SABC,” the company said.

MultiChoice added that it was committed to participate in Government’s policy process constructively and would continue to actively work with government towards a fair and balanced policy and regulatory environment that would benefit South African viewers.

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MultiChoice slams SABC plan for DStv to collect TV Licence fees