MultiChoice can’t be held responsible to collect TV Licence fees on behalf of the SABC, the group CEO of MultiChoice, Calvo Mawela, said during a recent call with investors.
This follows a proposal from the state broadcaster and Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, to get the dominant subscription video entertainment service in South Africa to collect TV Licence fees.
Currently, this responsibility would fall to DStv.
“Our position is very clear. We can’t be held responsible for collecting money on behalf of a government entity,” Mawela said.
“The government entity itself needs to find a way to collect such monies.”
The proposal to have pay-TV providers collect TV licence fees on the SABC’s behalf comes in the context of extremely low compliance rates among South African television owners.
SABC chief financial officer Yolande van Biljon told Parliament earlier this year that only around 2.5 million of the 9.5 million TV licence holders on its database paid for licenses.
The SABC billed approximately R3 billion in TV licence fees per year, but was only able to collect around R791 million.
The TV licence fee “evasion rate”, where households who do not bother to pay for a licence, is 76%.
This should not come as a surprise. Incompetence, maladministration, and corruption at the SABC mean many people refuse to fund the state broadcaster.
So dire is the situation that the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has called for the scrapping of TV licences, arguing this funding model for the SABC has failed.
However, the Department of Communication and Digital Technologies and the SABC are doubling down on this funding model.
BusinessTech reported that MultiChoice has submitted a formal response opposing the proposed new law.
Some of the concerns MultiChoice raised were that:
- DStv is a competitor to the SABC and collecting fees on its behalf can’t be justified
- There are less intrusive ways to get customers to pay their TV licences
- DStv is required to protect the privacy of its customers and the proposed law may contravene POPIA
- This would overburden commercial broadcasters with a duty that should be performed by the state
In addition to the proposal to force MultiChoice to collect TV licence fees, the SABC has said it also wants South Africans to have valid TV licences to buy laptops, tablets, and DStv decoders.
Mawela said that MultiChoice believes the proposal is an old way of thinking around a public service mandate and that there are better examples of public service funding all over the world.
He has instead supported the idea to replace the current TV licence system 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.”