DStv-operator MultiChoice told the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies that it was against suggested changes in the draft SABC Bill, News24 reported.
It also opposed the SABC’s proposal that MultiChoice be required to collect TV licence fees on the public broadcaster’s behalf.
The SABC wants its licence fees collected as a household levy to help rectify its 76% “evasion rate”. It suggested that the levy be collected, in part, by the dominant pay-TV operator in South Africa — currently MultiChoice.
The department held the virtual hearings to allow comment on the draft SABC Bill published for public comment on 19 July.
MultiChoice suggested that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) is best suited to collect TV licence fees for the SABC. In other words, that it should be treated as a tax.
This is in line with a proposal from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), which has also called for TV licences fees to be converted into a tax levied on South African households.
“No changes globally have attempted to shift revenue collection to the private sector on the part of public service broadcasters,” said Aynon Doyle, head of policy analysis, research, and regulatory affairs at MultiChoice.
“If SARS collected in 2019, there would have been a significant difference in what would have been collected,” said Doyle.
The pay-TV operator objected that the department was holding hearings on the Bill while the White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services Policy Framework is still a work in progress.
Werkmans Attorney’s Wendy Rosenberg, representing MultiChoice, indicated that the department should improve on the Bill’s terms and conditions to better align with the Electronic Communications Act.
“Some definitions don’t work and should be aligned with the ECA,” she said.
“The definition of the broadcasting licence is a problem because the ECA deals with the licensing of radio spectrum. It is inappropriate for a spectrum licence to be the same as broadcasting service licence.”
Rosenberg also said that the proposal in the draft SABC Bill to move responsibility for TV Licence regulations from the Minister of Communications to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) raises questions.
“The Bill requires regulations to be made by [Icasa]. It is not clear why this change is being proposed. These are not broadcasting regulations, but practical aspects of mechanisms like licences,” Rosenberg said.
Rosenberg suggested that the powers to make TV licence fee regulations should stay with the Department of Communications.
She also criticised the notion that the SABC could reject a policy in which it has a stake, saying that the Bill’s proposal to give the SABC veto over regulations that affect it is impermissible.
MultiChoice previously stated that it undermines the nemo iudex in sua causa principle – no person must exercise decision making power or judgment in their own matter.