If you’re watching Netflix and DSTV on your phone, laptop, tablet or the good old fashioned TV box, the SABC could force you to pay your TV licence.
Experts say this may be the public broadcaster's last resort to recover lost TV licence revenue. And the law states, the SABC has the right to do just that.
Director at Media Monitoring Africa, William Bird said Multichoice has a footprint in 50% of households across SA and many of those subscribers do not have valid TV licences.
“Multichoice definitely has the infrastructure. They can do it. As it stands, you could interpret it that the SABC can demand Netflix and Multichoice or another entity to help with the collection of TV licence fees. Under the current law they can’t but if the White paper is adopted, it can happen,” said Bird.
Netflix, an internationally owned entity, said through its spokesperson, Theo Nel: “Netflix currently has no comment on the story”
Multichoice spokesperson, Benedict Maaga said: “The TV Licence Regulations create a legal obligation on people who own a television to pay a licence fee for ownership, which is why you have to present a valid TV licence when purchasing one. This does not apply to parties who provide broadcasting services, nor any other secondary devices that work in conjunction with a TV. We have noted recent media reports on the comments on this issue, and will respond in due course.”
Bird further added that between 12 and 15% of the SABC’s revenue comes from TV license payments and while it is a legal requirement for each television owner to pay their TV licence fees, this is not the case.
“People have been getting away with not paying. I suspect Netflix and Multichoice will either collect on behalf of or make a contribution to the SABC. The question every South African should ask is how then do we fund the SABC? For decades now, the SABC has been underfunded,” he said.
A draft White Paper on Audio and Visual Content Services was released by the department of Communications and Digital Technologies in September which paves the way for the SABC to “delegate the collection of the payment of television licence fees to other persons.”
In a presentation to parliament’s portfolio committee this week, the SABC said it needed a number of key regulatory reforms to remain viable. In a presentation to parliament, deputy minister of Communications Pinky Kekana said TV licences could be expanded to include other devices. And while it’s still a long way off, experts are in agreement that this might be the only way the struggling public broadcaster can win the fight against television licence defaulters. A TV licence costs R265 per year.
Bird’s sentiments were echoed by Adjunct professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Wits University, Franz Kruger who said the SABC has been arguing for a while now that it has a public mandate without funding.
“Government contributes very little to the SABC which is quite unusual. The BBC (in contrast) has been able to withstand the impact of Covid-19 because it is so well-funded. The BBC is enormously valued . The problem we have is that the SABC has to be viable,” he said.
Kruger said that while subscribers may not necessarily have to brace for increases just yet, he agrees that “other persons” in the Broadcasting Act could include Netflix and Multichoice.
“There have been many many things that have gone wrong at the SABC, some of its own making and some not. Do we want a public broadcaster? It has the language representation. Can we scap certain languages? Our Constitution mandates that we have 11 official languages.” said Kruger.
ICASA spokesperson Paseka Maleka said: “Section 27(7) of the Broadcasting Act provides the SABC with the discretion to delegate the collection of the payment of television licence fees to other persons.”
But attorney and Netflix and Multichoice subscriber Gary Trappler (Cape Town) said he does not believe Netflix or Multichoice are obliged to accept the delegated responsibility.
“The Broadcasting Act may well be entitled to delegate but no one is obliged to take on that responsibility. Delegation is a principle in which an entity is possessed of a certain power and wishes to assign that power to another entity. Contractually speaking, there would need to be a quid pro quo, normally some form of financial arrangement. In my opinion, the SABC cannot mero motu (of its own accord) delegate the function of collecting TV licence fees to a third party unless such third party agrees to it” said Trappler.
Another subscriber, Vanessa Green-Thompson (JHB) said: “The SABC got themselves into the mess they are in under the leadership of Hlaudi. They squandered the money and again ordinary citizens must cough up. So it's 5 no's from me. Subscribers pay enough for DSTV and Netflix.”
Malcolm Ally (JHB) said: “If they want to start a revolution in SA they can go ahead, we already pay for data to use Netflix and pay exorbitant subscriptions for DSTV.”
SABC spokesperson, Mmoni Seapolelo confirmed that two million TV licences are paid up.
"It must be noted that the public broadcaster’ reference to 'other persons' applies to any supplier or third party that the SABC deems necessary to collect licence fees. This includes other parties external to the SABC i.e. Debt Collection Agencies, Retailers, Inspectors etc," she said.
The corporation will in the next months, publish its Annual Report wherein the latest figures and information pertaining to TV licence will be released. The SABCsaid it will continue to engage on a variety of possible solutions, to assist in increasing TV Licence fee collection.
“Our Constitution mandates that we have 11 official languages,” said Kruger. Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) spokesperson Paseka Maleka said: “Section 27(7) of the Broadcasting Act provides the SABC with the discretion to delegate the collection of the payment of television licence fees to other persons.”
But attorney and Netflix and MultiChoice subscriber Gary Trappler said he does not believe Netflix or MultiChoice are obliged to accept the delegated responsibility.
“The Broadcasting Act may well be entitled to delegate but no one is obliged to take on that responsibility. Delegation is a principle in which an entity is possessed of a certain power and wishes to assign that power to another entity.
“Contractually speaking, there would need to be a quid pro quo, normally some form of financial arrangement. In my opinion, the SABC cannot mero motu (of its own accord) delegate the function of collecting TV licence fees to a third party unless such third party agrees to it,” said Trappler.
SABC spokesperson, Mmoni Seapolelo, confirmed that two million TV licences are paid up.