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A consumer rights body has called on the SABC to scrap TV licences in the wake of recent media reports about the “unreasonable and illegal” tactics used by the broadcaster to collect licence fees.
The SA National Consumer Union (Sancu) yesterday said it had received several complaints from the public about the “heavy-handed” and threatening approach used by the SABC’s licence collection agencies.
“The call centre operators at the collection agencies are rude and aggressive,” said Sancu chief executive Ann Goslin.
“Our attempts to resolve legitimate consumer complaints with them are always futile, even when their demands are patently ridiculous. They simply won’t listen to reason.”
However, another consumer body, the National Consumer Forum, disagreed with the idea of scrapping TV licences.
The forum’s chairman, Thami Bolani, said they had also received complaints from the public, but he dismissed Sancu’s proposal as extreme.
It was the second time that Sancu had made such a call in the past three years. In 2009, it demanded that the broadcaster phase out licences after it was suggested that an increase in licence fees might be needed to help the SABC out of its financial woes.
The union renewed its call this week after the Sunday Times reported that the SABC’s debt collectors were sending letters of demand and text messages and calling customers, threatening to blacklist them, even though credit bureaus stopped listing TV licence debt in 2004. It also revealed that the broadcaster was under investigation by the National Consumer Commission.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago said yesterday a TV licence was a statutory requirement stipulated by the broadcasting act. Licensing fees, he said, were used to fund local content and programming.
“Licence fees are not used for… purchasing overseas films or series. The SABC is one of many public broadcasters internationally that makes use of a mixed-funding model, television licence fees as well as commercial and advertising revenue,” he said.
However, Goslin said the case to scrap licences was today stronger than ever.
The union, she said, had estimated that less than one third of TVs in the country were licensed, despite “harassment” by the collection agencies.
The SABC’s 2012 annual report stated that R892 million was collected in licence fees. At an annual fee of R250, Goslin said this amounted to 3.57 million licences paid for by users. “The census said there are 10.7 million homes in South Africa with TVs. The collection ratio is thus 3.57 million divided by 10.7 million – 33 percent.”
Sancu vice-chairman Clif Johnston said that based on the annual report’s figures, licence fees contributed less than 7 percent to the SABC’s income. If most licence fees could not be collected, the “user-pays” principle fell away and therefore the system should be scrapped.