Johannesburg – Wednesday, 9 June 2021 – The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has commended Government for embarking on the most fundamental review of South Africa’s broadcasting policy framework in over two decades. At public hearings today on the draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services, the SABC made a comprehensive presentation to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT).
Led by Group CEO Madoda Mxakwe, the SABC presented evidence that the current legislative and regulatory framework is not only outdated but has failed to meet the statutory requirement for “protecting the integrity and viability of public broadcasting services”. The SABC therefore welcomed the new licensing framework which is founded on technology neutrality, regulatory parity and fair competition.
GCEO Madoda Mxakwe said that the “public broadcaster’s submission to Government is based on the core principle that the sustainability of the public broadcaster – through a fair regulatory framework and financing of public mandate programming – is vital to our constitutional democracy”.
The SABC made key proposals on funding the public mandate and provided the DCDT with a detailed definition on public mandate programming. The sustainability of the public broadcaster is recognised in the White Paper which includes plans to strengthen existing governance structures in an SABC Act. This amended Act would be based on principles established in recent case law and 2018 amendments to the SABC’s Memorandum of Incorporation which further provided for the Board’s independence.
In summary, the SABC took the opportunity to present the following key submissions to the DCDT:
- Comprehensive legislative and regulatory changes are needed for free-to-air broadcasters to be able to fairly compete with other audio and audiovisual content service providers.
- The SABC reiterated 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.
- Government should therefore retain SABC’s current statutory right to be supported by a direct levy that finances public interest content. While financial support for the public broadcaster is foundational to democracy, the SABC agrees that the design and collection of the levy must be amended and significantly improved.
- The household levy proposal is based on the reality that every single South African household has the realistic ability to access public broadcasting content freely and universally, whether via:
o analogue free-to-air TV and radio;
o Websites, social media and streaming services through mobile apps.
- As a pro-competitive measure, the dominant pay-TV operator (and any future dominant On Demand Content services) should be required to collect the public broadcasting household levy from its subscribers (unless they have already paid).
- After more than 30 years of no pay-TV competition, Multichoice has now over 8 million TV household subscribers out of a total of 14 million TV households. The current television market follows decades of prejudicial legislation and regulation including:
o the Must Carry regulations which have obliged the SABC to provide its three free-to-air channels to subscription broadcasters for free (since 2008);
o Sports Broadcasting Regulations which failed to protect the public broadcaster from anti-competitive bundling of rights and unfair sublicensing criteria (since 2004);
o Failure to implement tariff regulation of Sentech in terms of section 62(3) of the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) which has led to crippling signal distribution costs for the SABC; and
o Failure by the regulator to implement any effective limitations on advertising on subscription broadcasters as intended by ECA in 2005.
- The part-collection of the SABC’s household levy by Multichoice is feasible via the company’s increasingly automated billing system. It is also a reasonable policy intervention to partially deal with the financing of public broadcasting. The SABC will be responsible for collecting the public broadcasting levy from the balance of non-subscriber, non-indigent households and utilising the SABC’s digital broadcasting, online channels and OTT streaming platform. The SABC’s proposed move away from the TV retailer collection model to a public broadcasting household levy is conditional on Multichoice being required by law to collect this levy from its subscribers.
- In addition to the public household levy, which may take time to implement, the SABC has proposed that relevant governmental departments should allocate and ring-fence a line-item in their budgets for public service content. This funding should be provided for programming relevant to the national development mandate of a particular department, without compromising SABC’s editorial independence. These departments would include Departments of Health; Basic Education; Higher Education and Training; Sports, Arts and Culture, GCIS and the DCDT.
- The SABC supports the White Paper proposal to scrap the Must Carry law which requires the public broadcaster to offer SABC 1, SABC 2 and SABC 3 for free to subscription broadcasters who “must carry” these channels.
- The three SABC ‘Must Carry channels’ are now accessible on several free, non-subscription platforms simultaneously. These platforms include satellite via OpenView and Sentech’s DTH box, via DTT and via streaming on the TelkomOne mobile app. This is only the beginning of the SABC’s streaming strategy with a fully-fledged SABC streaming platform to be launched within the next year. SABC therefore submitted that members of the public can now freely access all SABC television programmes and channels outside of the subscription universe. This is a very different situation to 2008 when the regulations were first prescribed.
- The SABC has submitted that “subscriber convenience” is a completely different concept to “universal access” to SABC channels. While DStv subscribers may be inconvenienced if the SABC withdrew the three channels after failing to agree commercial terms with Multichoice, they still have a very real opportunity of accessing three SABC channels elsewhere without having to pay a subscription.
- Scrapping Must Carry will give the SABC the opportunity to continue achieving the public interest goals of universal service and access whilst at the same time commercially exploiting its content through carriage agreements.
- The SABC has proposed to ICASA that new draft Must Carry regulations, which now provide for commercial negotiations, should be treated as an interim measure until Must Carry is repealed in its entirety. The amended Must Carry regulations should include a sunset clause that that will kick in when the enabling law is finally repealed.
- The SABC reiterated that it is opposed to the creation of a protected monopoly for Sentech as it conflicts with the definition and role of the common carrier set out in the ECA. The SABC must retain the freedom to choose the best platforms for the public broadcaster, noting that the SABC Board and management are required to act in the best interests of the SABC.
In conclusion, SABC GCEO Madoda Mxakwe said that “the SABC has demonstrated emphatically that there is a critical need for a sustainable public broadcasting service which supports our citizens and constitutional democracy. Public audio and audiovisual content services still have a huge and important role to play in society. It is therefore vital that the new government policy reimagines, protects and supports the role of the SABC and all its services.”
Issued By: Group Communications
Media Enquiries: Ms. Gugu Ntuli (Group Executive: Corporate Affairs and Marketing)
NtuliGM@sabc.co.za|T. 011 714 3311|C. 071 877 0531