No more SABC licences?

2009-10-31 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The government wants to abolish TV licences payable to the SABC — but the broadcaster warned yesterday that the new policy is still only a discussion document, and therefore TV licence fees still have to be paid.

This is only the beginning of the government’s new plan to revoke the Broadcasting Act of 1999 and introduce the most drastic changes to the SABC and the public broadcasting industry in South Africa since the advent of television in 1976.

The Communication Department has just drawn up an 80-page provisional Public Broadcasting Services policy document outlining far-reaching changes and consequences for the SABC as a public broadcaster, as well as for the public broadcasting industry in South Africa.

The broadcaster’s current SABC News International news channel is a bottomless money pit that is an enormous burden for the SABC and has as yet made no profits. It will be transferred to the SABC’s new international broadcasting division.

SABC News International, currently a satellite channel with limited availability, will be broadcast as a free TV channel across the whole country. The IBS will be “subject to the republic’s foreign policy on African development, reconstruction, peace and stability’”.

The new policy will mean the end of SABC licence fees. Should the policy become law, TV viewers will no longer have to pay annual TV licences. Viewers will, however, still be liable for outstanding licence fees.

The government, through the minister of Communication, acquires much greater and more direct control over the SABC board in the new proposed policy document. The minister will be able to order the SABC board to take “any action” if the SABC should experience any financial problems, as is the case at present, or be mismanaged.

The minister will now also be able to order investigations into the SABC and make recommendations to parliament for the “replacement or removal of SABC board members’’.

A performance evaluation system for the SABC board, something which has never existed, is also envisaged.

Within 18 months of the replacement of the current Broadcasting Act, a broadcasting and signal distribution museum must be created by the SABC and Sentech to portray the “evolution and broadcasting history of South Africa’’. The minister will create an advisory body to advise on how “the development, production and screening of local content can be supported”.

• The total abolition of SABC licences.

• Greater power and control for the Communication’s minister over the SABC board.

• The creation of a so-called public broadcasting services (PSB) fund, financed by taxpayers, to pay for the SABC and public broadcasting services.

• The creation of a new international broadcasting service (IBS) within the SABC.

• The creation of a new body, known as the local content advisory body, whose purpose will be to keep a watch on the amount and type of local TV content.

• The creation of a new broadcasting and signal distribution museum.

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