The Communications Ministry briefed parliament on the status of the SABC on Tuesday 23 February, outlining some of the ‘quick wins’ and long-term strategies it is considering to help get the struggling state broadcaster back on track .
A key part of the presentation is a “robot” slide – a list of interventions that describes some of the main proposals being considered by the ministry.
While the ministry has not discussed all of the interventions in depth, the proposals are relatively straightforward and include:
- Reorganize the SABC by purchasing compelling content, modernizing infrastructure and reducing debt;
- Improve TV license collections through agreements with other broadcasters such as MultiChoice and its DStv platform;
- An evolution towards an online platform including the launch of more streaming services;
- Enforce the rules relating to the obligation to carry and sports regulations;
- Move the SABC away from its “legacy apartheid” structure and turn to more effective models such as those employed by the TBEN;
- Fund public service media through a household tax.
Introducing the presentation to Parliament, Deputy Communications Minister Pinky Kekana said that if companies like Multichoice could be forced to collect television royalties on behalf of the SABC, it could alleviate some of the financial problems facing the public broadcaster. .
Kekana added that it won’t be limited to Multichoice and other broadcasters could help with the collection as well. In an October 2020 Report, the SABC has indicated that this could include streaming services such as Netflix.
The SABC said it would be similar to municipalities that collect traffic fines and motor vehicle registration records. The SABC said the broad definition of a television license is outdated and needs to be adapted to current realities.
Kekana said that SABC’s budget constraints mean it now runs the risk of having to streamline programming that is presented in indigenous languages.
She said a household levy could help alleviate these concerns, as the SABC could be funded more as a public service medium.
However, Kekana said it was only a proposal and all additional levies and taxes would need to be approved by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni.
“We cannot just sit back and say the status quo must stay when we know our public broadcaster is shrinking. So those are the proposals that we need to put in the public domain and see if the government can fund us directly from the tax system or be creative in looking at the household tax.
Must-carry and sport rule
The SABC also called for the removal of the duty to wear rule. These regulations ensure that all subscription broadcasters with more than 30 channels must broadcast the three free SABC TV channels.
However, unlike the enabling legislation which provides for “trade negotiations” between the parties, the regulations state that the SABC “shall offer its television programs, free of charge,” to subscription broadcasters.
The SABC said it wanted to negotiate with pay-TV providers to pay for these channels instead, as it noted that the current regulations meant the deal was “one-sided” in favor of Multichoice.
The Ministry also proposed new rules that would require DStv to make certain sports free to serve the public interest.
Read: TBEN’s Britbox streaming service to launch in South Africa