Re­searcher calls for scrap­ping of South African TV li­cence charges


AL­LE­GA­TIONS of mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion at the cash­strapped SABC has re­sulted in fewer South Africans pay­ing their TV li­cences, with one re­searcher sug­gest­ing the yearly fee be scrapped.

Mar­tin van Staden, a re­searcher at the Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion (FMF), an in­de­pen­dent pub­lic ben­e­fit or­gan­i­sa­tion, said one in four house­holds paid the manda­tory fee of R265 and sug­gested the pub­lic broad­caster not rely on South Africans to help “keep it afloat”.

He re­cently wrote an ar­ti­cle for the FMF, say­ing he be­lieves peo­ple do not pay their li­cence fees be­cause they do not re­spect the pub­lic broad­caster.

“In re­cent months, al­le­ga­tions of mis­man­age­ment and cor­rup­tion have plagued the broad­caster. A lot of peo­ple are an­gry and feel they should not be pay­ing, es­pe­cially when they see it as a cor­rupt en­ter­prise. Yes, it is an in­signif­i­cant amount to pay but South Africans should not be ex­pected to pay.

“The broad­caster gets over 70% of its fund­ing from ad­verts and spon­sor­ships but still a TV li­cence fee is added on. It’s sick­en­ing that peo­ple are ex­pected to con­trib­ute to the SABC cof­fers.”

Ac­cord­ing to Sec­tion 27 of the Broad­cast­ing Act,“…fail­ure to be in pos­ses­sion of a valid tele­vi­sion li­cence is a civil of­fence”.

But Van Staden said the de­ci­sion of pay­ing a li­cence, which was car­ried over af­ter apartheid, should be re-ap­pealed.

“Dur­ing those times and even ear­lier, the Bri­tish ruled and they en­joyed con­trol, so they im­ple­mented the fee. Up un­til now, in the UK, res­i­dents have to pay the Bri­tish Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion.”

He said there were 12.8 mil­lion TV own­ing house­holds and of that, 7.3 mil­lion house­holds had TV li­cences but only 3.45 mil­lion of them paid their li­cences an­nu­ally.

Ac­cord­ing to Busi­ness Re­port, the em­bat­tled pub­lic broad­caster con­tin­ues to face tough eco­nomic chal­lenges with ex­penses ex­ceed­ing the rev­enue gen­er­ated.

The SABC re­cently re­ported a net loss of R622 mil­lion for the 2017/18 fi­nan­cial year, com­pared with R977m in the pre­vi­ous term.

It said it had a de­mand­ing fi­nan­cial year, with cash re­sources stretched to the max­i­mum to en­sure con­tin­ued busi­ness op­er­a­tions.

But the SABC claimed it de­vel­oped a ro­bust turn­around strat­egy, which fo­cused on fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity, restor­ing the in­tegrity, cred­i­bil­ity and a cul­ture of ex­cel­lence in the pub­lic broad­caster.

Duduet­sang Makuse, the na­tional co-or­di­na­tor of the civil so­ci­ety coali­tion SOS, Sup­port Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Coali­tion, said com­mu­ni­ties that are un­able to af­ford satel­lite tele­vi­sion de­pended on the SABC.

“We can­not say that be­cause they are cor­rupt, they must die… The TV li­cence fee is needed now more then ever, at least un­til we come up with a new model that al­lows the SABC to func­tion with­out the need of the li­cence fee.”

The SABC did not com­ment on the re­search un­der­taken by Van Staden but spokesper­son Neo Mo­modu stressed the im­por­tance of buy­ing a li­cence.

“In the same way as a mo­tor ve­hi­cle or firearm, a TV set in one’s pos­ses­sion has to be li­censed. A viewer can­not refuse to pay a li­cence on the grounds of his/her TV set ‘not be­ing used’.

“A tele­vi­sion li­cence is not an SABC re­quire­ment, it is a le­gal re­quire­ment. A TV li­cence is a levy im­posed by the state on the use of what is, in any coun­try, a na­tional as­set – the elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum, through which all ra­dio and TV sig­nals are pro­mul­gated.

“In turn, pri­vate broad­cast­ers such as DStv,, etc, as well as ev­ery ra­dio sta­tion, pay in the form of a broad­cast­ing li­cence for broad­cast­ing TV or ra­dio pro­grammes to view­ers/lis­ten­ers on these fre­quen­cies.

“The li­cence is there­fore not an SABC li­cence but a tele­vi­sion li­cence. Whether one can re­ceive one, two or three SABC chan­nels, or uses a TV set to watch only, or only to re­ceive the DStv satel­lite ser­vice, a li­cence is still needed since the sig­nal still reaches one through the coun­try’s elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum.”


Mar­tin van Staden, a re­searcher at the Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion (FMF).

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