Scrap TV licences — SABC wants a TV tax

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) wants TV licences scrapped in favour of a TV levy that every household must pay, News24 reported.

During public hearings for the draft SABC Bill, the broadcaster told the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies that it would like to see a household levy system replace TV licences.

The state broadcaster said that this household levy should be based on the ability to access the SABC’s services rather than the actual use of its services.

The SABC wants this household levy to be collected, in part, by South Africa’s dominant pay-TV broadcaster — currently, MultiChoice.

“Unfortunately, the SABC Bill retains the outdated TV licence system,” the SABC told the department.

“[It] does not take into account the SABC’s view that it should be replaced by a technology-neutral, public broadcasting household levy that would exempt the indigent and should be part-collected by the dominant pay-TV operator.”

The broadcaster called for the whole TV licence regime to be scrapped from the proposed SABC Bill and replaced with a household levy system, similar to the device-independent German model.

The SABC argued that a licensing system connected to specific devices is administratively burdensome and can’t be future-proofed.

The SABC also said that the draft bill doesn’t include provisions for further government grant funding for public interest programming.

Cabinet approved the SABC Bill on 4 July 2021, and it was published for public comment on 19 July.

Curiously, the bill proposed keeping South Africa’s TV licence regime as-is, despite suggestions from several different fronts to change it.

Calvo Mawela, MultiChoice Group CEO
Calvo Mawela, MultiChoice Group CEO

MultiChoice has argued against collecting fees on the SABC’s behalf but favours a device-independent, technology-neutral household levy for public broadcasting.

“Our position is very clear. We can’t be held responsible for collecting money on behalf of a government entity,” MultiChoice group CEO Calvo Mawela said during an investor call in June.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has argued that TV licences are already a tax and should be treated as such.

It said TV licences should be covered in a money bill and that the Minister of Communications should not be responsible for setting the licence fees.

Outa said a regular annual state grant for the SABC’s public broadcasting services should also be considered.

“This would avoid the irregular and disastrous last-minute bailouts but provide a more stable revenue stream, particularly for the public broadcasting sector,” said Outa.

Wayne Duvenage
Wayne Duvenage, Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse CEO

The civil action group further proposed cutting funding to wasteful programmes and diverting some of this to the SABC.

For example, the National and Provincial Legislatures could provide some funding in the furtherance of democracy.

These institutions manage to provide hundreds of millions of rands to political parties to support democracy. Outa believes that some of these funds could be more usefully diverted to the SABC.

SABC’s annual report for 2019/20 points out that only 2.5 million households paid their TV licences — out of a database of 9.5 million licence holders — providing revenue of just R791 million.

This is a significant failure that needs addressing, Outa said.

Now read: Goodbye TV Licence — Best big monitors and media boxes to replace your TV and DStv decoder

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Scrap TV licences — SABC wants a TV tax