The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies and the SABC want South Africans to pay TV licences for laptops, tablets, DStv decoders, and Netflix subscriptions but have dropped smartphones from the list.
The plan to amend the TV licence definition first emerged in the “Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-Visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020”.
The white paper called for amendments to the TV licence fee section to broaden the definition and collection system for television licences.
It also highlighted the requirement to strengthen enforcement mechanisms and penalties of non-payment of TV licences.
Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams says these amendments were necessary to address the SABC’s financial challenges.
It was initially envisaged that basically all computing devices, including smartphones, will have to carry a TV licence fee.
The Department of Communications has now backtracked on charging people with smartphones TV licence fees.
“Over the last two months, it had been dealing with the matter and had agreed that nowhere would people using mobile phones be charged,” deputy minister Pinky Kekana told parliament.
While smartphone users are off the hook for TV licences, the government and SABC still want people with laptops, tablets, and DStv decoders to pay up.
Sylvia Tladi, head of the SABC’s TV licences division, said they want the Public Broadcasting Policy to be changed to expand the definition of a TV set.
She said the devices which must be included in the definition of a ‘TV set’ or now, a broadcasting device, include laptops, tablets, IPTV, Internet, decoders, and set-top boxes.
“These new devices, which have resulted in new media platforms and content dissemination channels, have a direct impact on TV licence legislation,” she said.
Tladi added that Pay-TV operators like MultiChoice should also hold their subscribers accountable for having a valid television licence before they can purchase a subscription or decoder.
“Submitted regulations also aim to make it obligatory for internet streaming websites to pay a percentage of subscription fees to the SABC, where these websites stream SABC content,” she said.