Big TV licence changes planned for South Africa


Communications and digital technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has backed a proposal to introduce a TV licence amnesty in South Africa.

Addressing a parliamentary committee on Wednesday (17 November), Ntshavheni said that the amnesty would give the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) more breathing room to deal with its financials.

“We are awaiting the concurrence of the National Treasury so that we can take the matter to parliament to make sure that there is an amnesty on TV licences. We believe that if the SABC achieves (this amnesty), they will be able to use the opportunity to improve their financial standing,” Ntshavheni said.

It currently costs the SABC money to employ debt collection agencies to follow up on non-payments.

A clean slate could arguably also improve collections as citizens do not have to worry about making back payments. Amnesty could also ease the SABC’s move to a new collection model which aims to focus on a general levy rather than individual licenses.

In response to queries from BusinessTech, an SABC spokesperson said that the national broadcaster had been engaging with Treasury about easing regulatory hurdles, but did not respond directly on the issue of a licence amnesty.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) 2020/2021 annual report shows that 82% of TV licence holders across the country did not pay the annual licence fee. Overall, the SABC said that 2.2 million TV licence holders managed to settle their fees in full or in part against a known database of 10.3 million television licence holders.

Under current regulations, first-time applicants for a television licence must pay the full annual fee of R265. Renewals must then be made annually before the licence expires, with users given the option of paying R264 each year or R28 in monthly instalments.

Other changes proposed

The SABC also reiterated its plans to fundamentally change South Africa’s TV licence to a more general levy in its presentation to parliament.

The current TV licence model is based on ownership of a TV set and is thus outdated and will make collections more difficult, it said.

The national broadcaster added that developments in technology meant that people could access television content through many different devices and platforms.

“As recommended to the White Paper and the SABC bill, the current TV licence fee system should be scrapped and replaced with a device-independent, tech-neutral public media levy for public broadcasting, which would levy all households, commercial enterprises, organisations and institutions.”

However, it will provide for an exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners, it said.

“The household levy is founded on the fact that every single South African household/entity has the realistic ability to access public broadcasting content, whether via analogue free-to-air TV and radio platforms or via DTT, DTH, the internet and streaming services through several mobile apps.

“Therefore, the levy is linked to the public’s ability to access public broadcasting content rather than on the consumption of that content.”

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