The Department of Communications has updated the South African parliament on the status of the South African Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday, outlining some of the so-called ‘quick wins’ and long-term strategies it’s considering to help get the embattled state broadcaster back on track.
A key part of the presentation is the ‘robot’ slide – a list of interventions that outlines some of the main proposals the department is looking at.
While the department did not discuss all of the interventions in depth, the proposals are relatively self-explanatory.
Deputy minister of Communications Pinky Kekana said that if companies like Multichoice can be obligated to collect TV licence fees on behalf of the SABC, it could mitigate some of the financial issues facing the national broadcaster. He added that this would not be limited to Multichoice and that other broadcasters may also assist in collecting. In an October 2020 briefing, the SABC indicated that this could include streaming services such as Netflix and Showmax.
According to the SABC, the expanded definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be adjusted to current realities.
Kekana said that the SABC’s budgetary constraints mean that it now runs the risks of having to rationalise programming which is presented in indigenous languages. A household levy could help alleviate these concerns, as the SABC could be further funded as public service media. Kekana however stressed that this was just a proposal and that any additional levies and taxes would have to be approved by Finance minister Tito Mboweni.
“We can’t fold our arms and say the status quo must remain when we know our our public broadcaster is dwindling. So these are the proposals we must put in the public domain and whether the government can fund us directly from the fiscus or be creative at looking at the household levy.”
The SABC has also called for the removal of a must-carry rule. These regulations ensure that all subscription broadcasters with more than 30 channels must carry the SABC’s three free-to-air television channels. Contrary to the enabling legislation which provides for “commercial negotiations” between the parties, the regulations state the SABC “must offer its television programmes, at no cost,” to subscription broadcasters.
The SABC stated that it would rather negotiate with pay-TV providers to pay for these channels as it noted that the current regulations meant the deal was ‘one-sided’ in favour of Multichoice.
The Department has also proposed new rules which would force DStv to make certain sports free-to-air.