A Group of protesters will this week descend on the SABC’s headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, to take a stand against the extension of TV licensing fees to PCs and monitors.
The SABC in late January updated its TV licence mandate, to define a TV set as any device that can receive a broadcast signal, for which South Africans now have to pay a R265 annual fee.
On the broadcaster’s frequently asked questions section on its website, the SABC defines a TV as: “Any device designed or adapted to be capable of receiving a broadcast television signal. That includes a personal computer fitted with a TV tuner card, or a video-cassette recorder connected to a monitor or TV screen.”
The group planning to march this week forms part of the over 38 000 people who signed an online petition on Change.org, accusing the public broadcaster of theft of taxpayers’ funds.
In the petition, the author, named Rupert Meyer, states he and fellow protesters vehemently oppose paying TV licences for computer devices and monitors.
“The SABC is now demanding that South Africans pay TV licence fees for PCs and computer monitors, even if they are not using those devices to watch TV. This is a ludicrous and a nefarious attempt to further exploit South Africans and to profit off other media providers’ backs. We will be handing over this petition to the SABC this week,” it says.
In 2020, a draft white paper on audio and visual content services was released by the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT). It paved the way for the SABC to “delegate the collection” of the payment of TV licence fees to other persons, including Netflix, DSTV, Apple TV and other online content services, as per Section 27(7) of the Broadcasting Act.
Then deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana presented the case to Parliament’s portfolio committee that the standard definition of a TV licence needs to be updated to include other electronic devices, such as laptops, cellphones and tablets, as more South Africans migrate to video-streaming services.
In 2021, at public hearings on the draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services, the SABC made a presentation to the DCDT, welcoming the proposed introduction of TV licensing fees for video-on-demand services.
In his submission at the time, SABC group CEO Madoda Mxakwe stated: “The SABC reiterates its position that the current TV licence fee system should be scrapped and replaced with a device-independent, technology-neutral household levy for public broadcasting, which would levy all households, with exemption for the indigent and discounts for pensioners.”
The legislative and regulatory changes were needed for free-to-air broadcasters to be able to fairly compete with other audio and audio-visual content service providers, said the SABC.