Parliament has published the draft South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Bill of 2023, giving communications minister Mondli Gungubele three years from its commencement to develop a funding model.
The SABC’s finances are dire, with the public broadcaster failing to turn a profit for the last decade, but government continues to drag its feet when it comes to finding a solution.
“The minister must, within three years after the commencement of this Act, develop a funding model framework to ensure that the majority of the Corporations’ funding is sourced from the State based funding mechanisms,” the draft bill reads.
Gungubele must also develop a comprehensive feasibility study, in consultation with finance minister Enoch Godongwana, to provide a clear business case before establishing the funding model.
In the meantime, the bill requires the SABC’s existing TV licence system to remain in effect.
“No person may use any television set unless such a person is in possession of a television licence issued by the Corporation against payment of the prescribed fee for each television set to be used, unless exempted by regulation,” it reads.
“No business, dealer, or lessor may use a television set unless such business, dealer, or lessor is in possession of a television licence issued against payment of a prescribed fee in terms of this Act for each television set used, unless exempted by regulations.”
Dealers and businesses must provide the SABC with all the prescribed information regarding the sale of new TVs for the public broadcaster to establish and maintain a national database register listing all sales of new television sets in the country.
While not the SABC’s primary source of funding, TV licence fee collections have been problematic for the public broadcaster, with 86% of licence holders avoiding paying during the 2022/23 financial year.
Many expected that the draft bill would give some indication of how the TV licence scheme would be reworked to address non-payment as part of the funding model.
However, this isn’t the case, and South Africans are still in the dark about the future of the SABC TV licence.
William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said government and the SABC tend to be moving away from the idea of a household tax — a funding scheme supported by DStv operator MultiChoice and civil society groups.
During an interview with 702 on Tuesday, 3 October 2023, before the bill was released, Bird said variances in two versions of a draft white paper about the issue indicate where things could be heading.
Bird explained that the first version of the draft white paper implied a household levy or tax to be paid by all households with the ability to access SABC content, regardless of whether they watch it or even have a TV set.
“Now it seems as though they may have gone for some kind of option that may be speaking to SARS as an additional tax to be collected… Another is the idea that public commercial services will support the public mandate of the SABC,” said Bird.