The SABC has started demanding that South Africans pay TV licence fees for computer monitors, even if they are not receiving broadcast signals on these devices.
As has been the case for the past few years, the annual e-mailed TV Licence Renewal Notice letter explains that broadcasting legislation requires that owners of a TV set must have a valid (paid-up) TV licence.
However, this year’s notice comes with an additional sentence stating the definition of a TV set includes a “TV monitor (without receiving capabilities) able to receive a broadcast signal by virtue of being connected to any television receiving equipment.”
The broadcaster specified that the receiving equipment could include a “digital box/decoder, DVD [player] or PC”.
Per the SABC’s description, that would mean that a monitor that is able — but not necessarily connected — to a device that can receive a broadcast signal, requires a TV licence.
The broadcaster’s use of the term “TV monitor” is strange, given that the two terms refer to distinctly different devices.
Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a “TV monitor”, but a monitor might be used as a replacement for a TV or vice-versa, as the need arises.
While it is possible to get TVs and monitors with similar specifications, they have one fundamental difference — a conventional TV has a built-in tuner capable of receiving broadcast signals, while a monitor does not.
But South African broadcasting law expands upon the definition of devices that require a TV licence.
According to the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, No.1 of 1993 and the SABC’s online TV Licence FAQ, a TV set in South Africa is defined as “any apparatus designed or adapted to be capable of” receiving a broadcast TV signal.
Expressly named examples of these are computers fitted with electronic broadcast cards (TV tuner cards) and the electronic broadcast cards themselves.
Presumably, a digital decoder or set-top box (STB) with broadcasting receiving capability falls under this category, as these are basic computers with tuner cards.
Based on that description, DStv and Openview’s satellite TV decoders also require a TV licence, as they are fitted with tuners for satellite TV broadcasts.
It is important to note that a digital decoder/STB/satellite decoder differs from a streaming box like the Xiaomi Mi Box or Chromecast because it does not rely on the Internet to feed content to the monitor.
Although the SABC previously floated the idea of requiring TV licences for any Internet-capable device, this idea was scrapped in favour of a household broadcasting levy to replace TV licences.
SABC being opportunistic — Outa
MyBroadband asked the SABC for more clarity on monitors now supposedly requiring a TV licence, even in cases where they are not connected to a decoder.
The SABC’s executive for corporate affairs and marketing, Gugu Ntuli, said the letter referred to TV monitors connected to TV receiving equipment.
“It must be noted that such receiving equipment (STB, decoder, tuner, etc.) renders the TV Monitor as a TV due to the television broadcast signal transmitted,” said Ntuli.
However, the SABC’s letter specifically named a DVD player and PC as examples of TV receiving equipment, when neither has this inherent capability.
Licence holders could also easily mistake the term “digital box” for a streaming box with no broadcast-receiving functionality.
MyBroadband followed up with the broadcaster, but it did not respond by the time of publication.
According to Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage, the SABC’s addition of monitors was wrong and appeared to be opportunistic in its search for “ailing” TV license revenue.
“They had plans to amend the Act to include screens and computers that didn’t have television receiving capabilities, but I’m not sure this was done, and if so, it would have been heavily challenged in court,” said Duvenage.
If the broadcaster’s claim is legally sound, it could have substantial repercussions for computer hardware retailers selling monitors in South Africa.
By law, stores may not sell TV sets without the buyer presenting a valid TV licence.
This is often where the TV licence is initially issued and lined to the customer’s ID number.
According to the SABC’s expanded definition of a TV set, monitors will also require this.
It also raises the question — why did the SABC previously not attempt to collect TV licence fees from monitor sales if the law technically allowed it for nearly three decades?