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Consumer Affairs
Tuesday, August 1, 2000
Blind spot

In terms of the Broadcasting Act 1976 a person who owns a television set is required to pay a licence fee — currently R208 per annum — to the SABC.

But supposing the TV owner did not want to watch any SABC channels, but was interested in a competitor channel, say M-Net? Why should he pay the SABC a licence fee so he can watch a competitor’s broadcast — a competitor who in no way shares in the spoils of TV licence revenue?
This seems a fundamental flaw in the system. If we have to pay TV licence fees, then they should go into a central fund and paid to all broadcasters, perhaps in proportion to some formula based on viewer ratings.
Better still. Wouldn’t it be easier for the SABC to be funded entirely by central government as a community television service providing essential information and educational programmes and so on (as is the case in some countries overseas). Competitor channels can then fight it out in the market place by lobbying for advertisers.
In answer to this an SABC spokes person, who clearly missed the point, responded as follows:

“Regarding your question on why viewers need to pay a licence fee if they only watch DSTV. The law states clearly that a television licence is a statutory obligation, a legal liability, which has to be met. It is a TV Licence, not an SABC licence. Regardless of whether you watch SABC channels, or those of other broadcasters, you still need to have a valid licence. As in the case of a car or firearm, it is the article, the television set that has to be licensed, not its use.
“Legislation stipulates simply that anyone who is in possession of equipment that can receive a television signal (any television signal) also has to have a valid TV licence. A TV licence entitles the person to whom it is issued to receive TV signals broadcast by any authorised, licensed broadcasters in the country of such issue.
“If a person possesses TV receiving equipment, the owner must have a valid TV receiving licence, even if the equipment is never turned on. Thus, if anyone wants only to watch transmissions broadcast by other organisations and never view SABC transmissions, the person must still be in possession of a valid TV receiving licence to comply with the law.”

Clearly the SABC has missed the point — conveniently. As it says, ‘as in the case of a car or firearm, it is the article, the television set that has to be licensed, not its use.’ However, the fee for licencing, in the case of a car or firearm, goes to the government, not to the manufacturer of the motorcar or gun. Why doesn’t the fee for the television then go to government?
Regardless of what the law says, it is wrong that the SABC receives revenues from persons because they want to watch Mnet, DSTV or e TV, for example. Instead the fees should be paid to government and used to fund a wider range of broadcasting and regulatory functions. Fees should in any event be shared amongst all television broadcasters. By Nigel Benetton

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:13.7 1st August, 2000
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