TV licence shake-up planned for South Africa

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) wants to replace the current TV licence regime with a “public media levy”.

SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini explained that the replacement of the scheme is one of four interventions the broadcaster would be implementing to become financially viable.

“The first one talks to the replacement of the current television licence regime with what we call a public media levy,” Makhathini stated.

He said that it was crucial for major players in the industry to assist with collecting the levy.

MultiChoice has baulked at previous proposals that it should collect TV licence fees on the SABC’s behalf.

However, it favours the TV licence being replaced by a device-independent, technology-neutral household levy for public broadcasting.

It must just not fall to the SABC’s competitors to collect this levy, MultiChoice said. Instead, it could be collected as a tax at the local or national level.

MultiChoice also suggested that the proposal may be in contravention of POPIA as DStv is required to protect its customers’ privacy.

Despite the opposition to the SABC’s fee collection proposal, both MultiChoice and the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) support the implementation of a household tax — or “public media levy”.

“The mere fact that a person has to pay a fee for having a television set whether it is used or not amounts to a tax or levy,” Outa said.

“One might still argue that where the set is used, there is a benefit which accrues to the possessor, but to pay for mere possession is akin to paying duty tax.”

SABC board chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini

Another critical aspect of the tax is that it would be based on whether South Africans have access to the content.

This means that South Africans would have to pay the tax regardless of whether they watch SABC content. Just the ability to access it on any device is enough.

Makhathini said that only the SABC’s commercial activities bring in more revenue than the collection of TV licence fees.

This is interesting because SABC CFO Yolanda van Biljon indicated last year that only 24% of households pay TV licence fees.

What the SABC terms as a “public media levy” is essentially the household tax they had previously proposed to combat the shortfall of TV licence payments.

The broadcaster said the household tax would apply to all households and businesses and not take device-type into account.

Now read: SABC’s Netflix competitor in testing

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TV licence shake-up planned for South Africa