DOCUMENTS

Six days left for public comment on SABC license fees – PVD

DA MP says public has already had to suffer consequences of billions in bailouts via the public purse

6 days left for public comment on proposal to increase SABC license fees

24 November 2020

Note to Editors: Please find attached soundbite from Phumzile Van Damme MP.

Tomorrow the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is due present its proposal to extend the payment of television (TV) license fees to include streaming services. The Democratic Alliance (DA) encourages members of the public to make their voices heard by submitting their views on the proposal. It is only through participatory democracy, where everyone has a say, that our democracy will thrive.

The Proposal is contained in the Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020 open for public until 16h00, 30 November 2020. Comment can be submitted to:

In writing:
The Acting- Director -General, Department of Communications and Digital
Technologies
Block A3, IParioll Office Park, 1166 Park Street, Hatfield, Pretoria
Private Bag X860, Pretoria, 0001

or

By email: [email protected]

In terms of the Broadcasting Act, the public is required to pay a TV license fee for viewing “broadcasting services” which includes subscription services like DSTV. The purchase of a TV, regardless of whether one watches the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) on it or not requires the payment of a license fee for any “broadcasting services.”

In the “traditional” sense a “broadcasting service” is limited to content viewed on a TV set.

Given the emergence of streaming services like Netflix, Apple +, Showmax, Amazon Prime and others, the White Paper broadens definition of a “broadcasting service” to include online broadcasting services.

By implication, that would require the payment of a license fee for the viewing any “broadcasting services” which would include a streaming services, regardless of the device on which it is viewed.

The DA is unequivocally opposed to any efforts that would require any additional payment of TV license fees. The public has already had to suffer the consequences of the billions in bailouts to the SABC has received via the public purse.

Not a cent more should the public have to pay to keep the SABC afloat.

The SABC must find creative ways to self-sustain, and break even without requiring the public to fork out any more money.

The DA notes that the SABC has promised to take cognizance of public outcry about the proposed license fee and will make its own submission to the Department regarding the proposal. We trust that it will present a plan that will mean that the public broadcaster will to stay afloat and break even without bailouts or making the public pay even more money to sustain it.

Other than this proposal, the Portfolio Committee will discuss various proposals made in the White Paper, some of which the DA agrees with, and others it is opposed to.

The Bad:

A Code of Conduct for streaming services, with disciplinary measures if it is not adhered to. Given that most streaming are international companies and not on South African soil this is pie-in-the-sky and unworkable. This could put government on a collision course with streaming services and barren harvest litigation it will not win, leading to more wasteful expenditure.

The establishment of a team that would be able to blacklist, block, require banks to halt transfers of payments of subscribers of international streaming services. This China-esque “censorship bureau” stands in stark violation to the right of all South Africans to a free-flow of information, and would not meet the constitutional standard of the limitation of this right by government.

The Good:

Amendment to the Broadcasting Act clearly stipulating that the SABC must be free from political interference vis-à-vis the role of the Minister of Communication’s role in the SABC;

Government funding of the SABC’s so-called “unfunded mandate,” – the airing of national importance for free and at great cost to the SABC;

The establishment of a free-to-air dedicated Parliamentary channel so that not only those with DSTV, but the greater public can view proceedings in what is the “People’s Parliament”;

The overhaul of the SABC’s funding model to ensure it has adequate funding to self-sustain;

Greater vigilance of political advertisement to prevent the spread of disinformation and fake news;

Repeal of the “Must Carry,” regulation which meant that the SABC is required to provide its own content for free to subscription broadcasters, like DSTV. The repealing of “Must Carry” will mean that the SABC can sell its content and bolster its revenue.

The DA remains committed to supporting initiatives that will mean the SABC can self-sustain and break even. This, however, not at further cost to the public. Innovation, out-of-the-box thinking is needed.

Any future bailouts to the SABC are completely out of the question, particularly as millions of South Africans join the unemployment queue due to the economic fallout of Covid-19 and poor governance. Any government funding must be directed towards the creation economic and job opportunities for the greater public and not to sustain the bottomless pit that is State Owned Entities

Communications Minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, must decide. Will see join the populist train to score political points, or will she support tough and unpopular decisions that will mean that down the line, the SABC does not come cap in hand for another bailout or completely collapse with all SABC staff losing their jobs. The DA urges her to support the restructuring of the SABC staffing model, a requirement from National Treasury when the SABC was given its last bailout to ensure the SABC’s survival and ability to self-sustain. The DA will not celebrate SABC staff losing their jobs, it is heartbreaking to see any person lose their source of income. But to protect the SABC as the country’s public broadcaster and make sure it does not require a bailout down the line, or have to shut shop because it won’t get one, sadly, tough and unpopular decisions must be made.

It is imperative that the SABC survives to deliver quality news and content in all 11 official languages, but it must do so without a reliance on government bailouts or the increase of licensing fees.

Issued by Phumzile Van Damme,Shadow Minister of Communications & Digital Technologies, 24 November 2020