South African draft bill seeks to scrap TV licences
October 31st, 2009 - 17:33 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

A draft bill tabled by the South African government this week seeks to scrap TV licences and introduce other changes to public broadcasting in South Africa. The draft legislation would see the cash-strapped SABC funded directly from money deducted from personal income tax.

Minister of Communications Siphiwe Nyanda told his department was amending and renaming the Broadcasting Act to bring it in line with international best practices. A strategy would be formulated to secure the SABC’s revenue stream from other sources. “The department will introduce an appropriate funding model to ensure the public broadcaster is not left to the vagaries of the markets,” he said. “The amendment will ensure that the public broadcaster is best suited to our young democracy.”

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced an additional R200 million allocation to the SABC as part of his maiden medium-term Budget policy statement. This has been seen as a mere stopgap, however, as reports indicate that the public broadcaster needs in the region of R2 billion to bail it out of financial crisis. The figure could escalate to over R6bn in the next five years, to cover debts, infrastructure and the cost of crossing over to digital broadcasting, if it is not addressed.

The Public Service Broadcasting Bill, which is intended to replace the Broadcasting Act of 1999, would establish a Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) Fund whose main income stream for the PSB fund would be from personal income tax. Viewers whose licences fall due at a particular time of the year would have to continue paying for licences until the end of the financial year should the new Act come into effect. Money owed would also still be collected.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago warned TV licence holders not to jump to conclusions. “It’s a draft legislation. It’s also not in our control … There is no decision that says TV licences will be scrapped. All outstanding amounts must be paid.”

Kganyago said the matter still has to go through a public participation stage where interested and affected parties can make comments by December 7. The new Bill, which affects the SABC board and introduces a performance management system, would also establish an international broadcasting services division and transfer Channel Africa to the new operating unit.