Opinionista

The death spiral of SABC TV licences

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Wayne is a businessman and entrepreneur turned civil activist. Following former positions as CEO of AVIS and President of SA Vehicle Renting and Leasing Association, Wayne has headed up the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) since it’s inception in 2012.

The SABC has had its fair share of ‘reasons not to pay’, including direct and blatant political interference, content manipulation to favour ruling party antics and sheer lack of operational leadership.

TV licences, as with so many levies and licences in South Africa, are on a continuous downward spiral due largely to one or more of the following three reasons:

  • Irrationality or lack of trust in the purpose of the levy;
  • Poor leadership decisions; and
  • Poor administration/enforcement controls.

When it comes to SABC’s TV licence issue, all three factors have come into play in recent times. Throw in the fourth factor of an ailing economy and unaffordability and the plight is exacerbated.

First and foremost, at the heart of all levy or licence fee decline is growing dissension related to the rationality, trust and use of the “tax” in the first place. When the public has a high degree of trust in the rationality and efficient use of the levy or fee, it makes compliance a whole lot easier and somewhat rewarding to pay. Give the people a reason to mistrust and do so repeatedly and they will find ways to avoid paying.

The SABC has had its fair share of “reasons not to pay”, including direct and blatant political interference, content manipulation to favour ruling party antics and sheer lack of operational leadership – such as the hubristic lunacy of the Hlaudi Motsoeneng circus. Advertisers and the public have been given every reason to tune out of SABC.

Abuse of levies and shocking leadership adds fuel to the fire that feeds localised or focused tax revolts, which is made worse when poor administration, (ie, the inability to collect or enforce collections) is thrown into the mix. In fact, a lack of enforceability is the death blow for any taxation process and this is where the TV licence debacle is heading.

The SABC doesn’t even know who has or doesn’t have a TV. And on top of that, it is just too costly and impractical to enforce. It costs more in telephone calls and inspectors, legal notices and demands than it does to secure the R265 annual licence fee. It’s just not worth the effort.

It is precisely for these reasons of irrationality and non-administrable levies that dog and bicycle licences have largely fallen by the wayside over the past few decades, and why the radio licence was abandoned many years ago. Yes, for the younger generation who find it absurd, I recall the crazy days of queuing to purchase my 50c annual bicycle licence and another tag for the family dog.

This absurdity is where the TV licence fee sits today.

Less absurd, but equally failing due to poor administration and a lack of trust in leadership, are other local and national government taxes, from the failed Gauteng e-toll levies to a massive reduction in property rates and taxes in local municipalities, to traffic fines and vehicle licences. The list goes on and it has nothing to do with people not wanting to pay taxes and levies. The public just doesn’t want its taxes wasted or poorly administered in a manner that enables some not to pay, while others do. Demonstrate that you can’t enforce taxes and levy collections and the compliant will learn from those who get away with non-payment. It’s one of those unwritten laws of human nature: “Why am I one of the few fools paying?”

Aside from the voluntary decline in advertising revenue over the past number of years, the SABC has seen its TV licence revenue diminishing, with compliance rates down to around the 30% mark and less than R1-billion collected out of a possible R2.5-billion-plus revenue lurking out there. It was far higher just a few years ago. In most countries where TV licences are still applied, good administration, efficient enforceability and higher levels of trust in leadership and purpose of these levies give rise to collection rates of more than 90%.

The answer (as has been recently purported), cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to try to hook the SABC’s ailing licence fee collections on to pay-TV or live-stream movie channels. The unintended consequence of interfering with these price-sensitive business models is to simply make them unaffordable and unviable.

The SABC needs to take a tough introspective look at its business model. The times have changed and the need to push the buttons of its shareholder (the state) to introduce the long-overdue digital migration is where it will find its new soul. It’s time that the SABC’s leadership exercised courageous leadership. To get their shareholders to play their part. To focus on an innovative future where lean is good and bemoaning one’s plight is not an option.

Start leading. Become a disruptor. Excite advertisers and viewers to believe in your energy again. That way, SABC, you will be able to promote the dissolution of the archaic TV licence funding model. DM

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All Comments 12

  • I moved from Aurora to Muizenberg two years ago and my TV was missing when I got here but I am 90 and didn’t bother to replace it. I informed SABC of the loss but they seem not to bother with records and every few months send threats of legal action. I am totally unimpressed.

  • TV licences formed part of the social contract: a public (not state) broadcaster provides impartial content and entertainment that we pay a nominal amount for. Post 1994 it actually seemed to be working.
    Then Zuma allowed hubris Hlaudi to give us the middle finger- he broke it. Paying became tantamount to facilitating corruption and state capture. As you point out, it probably can’t be fixed, as the world has moved on.

  • Who watches SABC TV anyway ? My guess it’s the majority who don’t pay their licence fees. However that majority are also the ‘target market’ for the SABC ANC propaganda, so they let it be.
    They chase the minority, like me, who don’t watch SABC, to fund the propaganda, to pay for the very propaganda used against us. Let’s all stop paying, like with the eTolls and see what happens.

  • Start leading. Become a disruptor — except to do that, the SABC would need to root out corruption completely, reduce staff complements and wages to reasonable levels and hire leaders who actually know how to run a broadcasting operation effectively. Is it any wonder they think it easier to rope Netflix and DSTV in to act as their new licence enforcers?….

    Speaking of that, I am curious as to how SABC expects this to work? Would Netflix be expected to add a surcharge on to pay for the licence? And if so, what does that mean for someone like me, who hasn’t owned a TV for 13 years and streams Netflix on his computer (which currently doesn’t require a licence) Would I be expected to pay for a device I haven’t even owned for more than a decade, simply because the surcharge is added to everyone’s bills?

  • My TV was stolen in 2004. I reported this, sent the case number to the SABC, etc. When I remarried in 2008, my new wife had a TV licence and we then bought a TV on that. To this day, the SABC insists that I now owe them around R7500 in licence fees for a TV I do not have any more…..enough said…the sooner this system goes belly up, the better!

    • According to the latest reports, SABC plans to charge you a licence for your computer screen, and/or your computer, and/or your cellphone, tablet and any other electronic device you can use to stream content on….

      Wonder how well that’s going to go down with all those private sector businesses that shelled out fortunes for laptops so that staff could work from home during the government-imposed lockdown – and now may have to shell out for TV licences for each and every one of these devices too. methinks if the SABC pursues this policy, they’re going to have a massive fight on their hands, with Netflix, private sector businesses AND Joe Public all ganging up against them…

  • #LicensesMustFall etc…..
    Those who cannot pay tax, do not want to pay for a licence either.
    What about a Life long SABC license included in the price of every new TV sold, recoverable from the manufacturer (i.e. Samsung)
    The liquor & tobacco excise is collected by customs before the product leaves the factory.

  • SABC is just another failing SOE. We have a TV, so pay the licence fee but don’t watch SABC at all. It’s just another form of taxation. Apart from the lack of business rationale, the approach of SABC TV Licencing is hardly customer friendly. They appear to spend a fortune on advertising trying to persuade you to pay yours. However, they are unreasonably aggressive when they suspect you may be “secretly watching” without paying. They escalated to new levels a few years ago when my father died at age 90. I notified them in writing together with a certified copy of his death certificate. Despite acknowledging receipt of this, they still demanded he that renew his licence the following year. As executor I refused payment and they stated that despite his death, they would still serve a summons. I explained that he had been cremated and asked whether I could bring an urn containing his ashes to the courtroom. This may convince the magistrate that he was not watching TV. Their rationale for wanting the licence paid, being that we had no proof of who his TV was sold to. There was a fear that his TV was being watched illegally!!! Imagine that! (It was donated to charity) Needless to say, my correspondence thereafter became somewhat humorous, including whether their channel offerings were the same in heaven and hell, as I wasn’t sure where Dad had gone.

  • At the risk of getting brickbats on this comments line, I willingly pay my licence fee because I listen seven days a week to SAfm and also watch SABC TV news at least five days a week. The quality of the news anchors and the coverage is well worth the fairly small annual amount I have to pay. Cheaper by far than my monthly DSTV bill!!!!