Much like Eskom’s power supply or Sanral’s e-tolls, the SABC’s TV licence regime is not a new phenomenon
Tempers have been fraying this week at the prospect of the SABC’s push to get the current TV licence regime amended, allowing it to impose TV licences for a far wider range of TV receivers and levy video on demand services like Netflix or satellite broadcasters like Multichoice’s DStv.
The reason is simple – not enough individuals are paying for their TV licences. But the truth is, much like Eskom’s power supply to many municipalities or Sanral’s loathed e-toll system, this is not a new phenomenon.
There’s a number of reasons for non-payments. The SABC, like so many other SOEs, has been appallingly mismanaged and abused as the plaything of the political elite. It has run at a loss and has had to be bailed out by the taxpayer numerous times. The biggest reason no one pays though is because they get away with it.
The SABC is a vital part of our media landscape; it is the biggest single media organisation in terms of staff and reach and fulfils a critical role as public broadcaster in terms of its diversity of language services.
Its problem is two-fold: management and perpetual political interference. The TV licence fee was supposed to free the SABC from the commercial pressures that non-public broadcasters face – forcing them to run very lean and highly competitive operations.
Instead, simply because of its own inability to collect the licence fees that every single TV owner must pay it – whether they watch the SABC channels or not - it now wants to cast its net wider to tax commercial outlets while still being able to sell advertising space on its channels.
This would create a highly uncompetitive and very uneven playing field in the broadcast media space. The SABC needs to choose whether it is a public broadcaster or a commercial competitor, it cannot be both – that’s simply unfair to everyone else.