South Africans who watch video streaming services like Netflix or pay-TV services like DStv or StarSat, and who don’t even watch or use the services of the South African public broadcaster, could be forced to pay a SABC TV licence fee like a compulsory “traffic fine”

This is the latest plan of the financially struggling South African public broadcaster to prop up its finances.

Pinky Kekana, South Africa’s deputy communications minister, told parliament’s portfolio committee on communications on Tuesday morning that the SABC wants to broaden the definition of the existing mandatory SABC TV licence that is payable by people with a TV set.

The SABC now wants the existing SABC TV licence legislation to be altered.

Only a small percentage of South African TV households still bother to pay their annual SABC TV Licence fee with millions of people who don’t. Meanwhile, the overstaffed public broadcaster’s precarious financial situation has seen it constantly lurch from crisis to crisis.

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The SABC, who got another government bail-out earlier this year, is currently fighting with the trade unions Bemawu and CWU over retrenchments. In August they asked the government for another R1,5 billion in Covid-19 financial relief to stay afloat.

The SABC now wants pay-TV operators like MultiChoice that runs DStv, China’s StarTimes that runs StarSat, as well as subscription video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Showmax and others who operate in South Africa, to collect SABC TV licence fees on behalf of the struggling SABC.

The government and the SABC also want SABC TV licence fees from people even when they are not watching the SABC or when they are not using a traditional TV set to watch it, for instance when someone is watching Netflix or Showmax on a tablet or mobile device.

“We are not only limiting it to TV,” said Kekana. “We also have other platforms where people consume content, and in all of those areas, that is where we should look at how we are able to get SABC licence fees from those gadgets.”

In Kekana’s presentation to parliament “key regulation reforms” are noted that includes a need “for pay service providers like MultiChoice and subscription video-on-demand (VOD) providers like Netflix to collect TV licence on behalf of SABC similar to municipalities collecting traffic fines and motor vehicle debt from motorists, and expanded definition of a TV licence is outdated and needs to be addressed to current realities”.

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