Goodbye TV licence — ANC wants a new tax

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has said the African National Congress (ANC) supports the scrapping of SABC TV licences in favour of a household levy, Eyewitness News reports.

While presenting the ANC communication commission’s resolutions during its December national elective conference, Ntshavheni said TV licences are not a sustainable way to fund the public broadcaster.

She added that government has already begun drafting the relevant framework for a household levy to replace South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) TV licences.

The idea of a household levy isn’t new.

The ANC’s national executive committee first discussed a household levy to replace TV Licences in December 2020.

This followed the publication of a draft white paper in October 2020 that called for fundamental changes to the SABC’s funding model.

“There will be a comprehensive overhaul of the SABC’s funding model based on international best practices to ensure that the public broadcaster has adequate funds to meet its public mandate,” the white paper proposed.

The SABC then proposed the idea in September 2021 during public hearings for the draft SABC Bill.

According to the SABC’s wishes, the levy should be technology-neutral and based on a household’s ability to access SABC services rather than the actual use of its services.

Essentially TV licences will become a tax that households and businesses must pay regardless of whether they watch the broadcaster’s content or own a TV.

“Unfortunately, the SABC Bill retains the outdated TV licence system,” it said.

“[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.”

This is similar to Germany’s Rundfunkbeitrag (broadcasting fee) — a monthly levy of €18.36 (R331.41) that helps fund public broadcasting.

In addition to the household levy, the SABC proposed that South Africa’s dominant pay-TV broadcaster, MultiChoice, should help collect the household levy.

MultiChoice, while supporting the idea of a technology-neutral levy, argued against the idea that it should be responsible for helping to collect payments.

“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.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) believes TV licences have always been a type of tax and that they should be treated as such.

Specifically, Outa said TV licences should be outlined in a money bill and that the communications minister should not be responsible for setting the licence fees.

Other proposals to help fund the SABC included new taxes, a regular government grant, and the privatisation of the public broadcaster.

Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies

South Africans say no to paying for SABC

The SABC has been struggling to get its customers to pay its TV licence fees over the past few years, with only 18% of licence holders paying their fees in 2021.

The public broadcaster first reported on licence fee evasion rates in its 2018 annual report, and reports that followed show a negative trend:

  • 2018: 72%
  • 2019: 69%
  • 2020: 81%
  • 2021: 82%

“Overall, 2,2m (2020: 2,5m) licence holders managed to settle their television licence fees in full or in part against a known database of 10,3m (2020: 9,5m) television licence holders,” the SABC said in its 2021 annual report.

“The licence fee collection rates indicate an evasion rate of 82% (2020: 81%.).” The licence fee evasion rate sat a 69% in 2019 and 72% in 2018.

In early December 2022, the broadcaster revealed its forecast for the rest of the 2022/23 financial year, which paints a bleak picture.

SABC chief financial officer Yolande van Biljon revealed that SABC’s overall revenue is expected to be R1 billion below budget.

Van Biljon attributed the dismal financial performance to TV licence fee evasion and underperformance in advertising revenue.

The SABC stated that its overall revenue is around 27% below budget for the year to date.

Earlier in the year, the public broadcaster revealed that declining audience numbers had contributed to R600 million in losses over two years.

“The decline in audience is multi-causational and is a global trend, and there is not much that can be done about that,” SABC COO Ian Plaatjes said.

Van Biljon added that the SABC attributes its shrinking audience to viewers’ migration to online platforms.

Now read: South Africa’s most-watched TV shows

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Goodbye TV licence — ANC wants a new tax