South Africans who watch DSTV and Netflix on their mobile devices could find themselves paying a TV licence fee to the SABC even if they do not watch any of the broadcaster’s channels.
However, the proposal from the government to charge people with mobile devices the cost of a television licence and then transfer all the subsequent income to the SABC has been widely rejected as unworkable and unwise, before the February 15 deadline for public comments.
Last month in a written response to a parliamentary question about the proposal by Michael Waters (DA), Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said: “The proposals require review and consequential amendments to the TV licence fee section to broaden the definition and collection system for television licences.”
The campaign group Dear South Africa (Dear SA) has run a poll on its website about the proposal, and spokesperson Rob Hutchinson said: “Out of 34 000 comments received so far, it’s a resounding ’no’ to the SABC’s proposal from 32 851 participants. Meanwhile, 318 are in favour while 760 sit on the fence.”
“Top concerns from all surround the new licence framework with many comments on SABC content, value for money and the sheer quantity of available online content,” said Hutchinson.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said: “This proposal goes against the whole deregulation process, and logistically the plan looks like it can never work. They should know that TV viewing has evolved a great deal. A lot has happened, including how content is delivered, and SABC has not innovated to keep up.”
“Today we have Smart TVs, and these do not rely on terrestrial channels. You can stream series and films and never once have to watch SABC,” said Mathekga.
Cosatu’s provincial secretary, Malvern de Bruyn, said: “The proposals, if they ever come to be, will be difficult to implement. I don’t think it’s practical.
“How will people with phones that cannot access the internet be treated? It will be a mammoth task to convince them to pay for something they cannot make use of,” said De Bruyn.
Economist Mike Schussler said: “That is another tax and it would mean many poor people would have an added cost to their phone calls. This is not a wise idea.
“The current R28 pm fee would add at least 10% to about half of all cellphone subscribers costs. That would defeat the object of cheaper data etc.,” said Schussler.
Trade union Uasa spokesperson Stanford Mazhindu said: “To allow the state broadcaster and the Department of Communications to broaden the definition of a TV licence to increase its revenue is preposterous. To burden the public even more to save yet another failing and poorly managed state-owned company is too much to ask.”
Last year in response to the proposal, SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo said: “The SABC will be making a detailed submission on the paper to the department, including comments on the new licensing framework for audio and audiovisual content services; the funding model for the SABC and mechanisms for funding the public broadcaster’s unfunded public mandate.”
Legalbrief Policy Watch spokesperson Pam Saxby said: “Amendments to regulations do not require Parliament’s involvement. At this stage, the only proposals in the public domain that could affect SABC revenue generation are for changes to the must-carry regulations, which are the focus of an ongoing Icasa inquiry,” said Saxby.