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Proposal to increase SABC license fees to include Netflix

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 like Netflix to Parliament today.

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

Its 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.

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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 Democratic Alliance is unequivocally opposed to any additional payment of TV license fees.

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.

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