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D-Day for people to have their say on TV licence fee for streaming services

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Today is the last day South Africans can comment on the draft bill which proposes that the definition of “broadcasting services” be broadened to include online broadcasting services, whether on a TV set or a phone

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THE DRAFT bill to extend the payment of TV licensing fees to other streaming services such as Netflix will likely very soon become law.

This is according to political commentator Xolani Dube of the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, who says if the ANC is supported by the smaller opposition parties in Parliament, the bill will pass.

“In principle, no one is supposed to support this bill but we are fast approaching the elections so it’s a game of politics and everyone has to secure their interests. The opposition parties will support the ANC on this because it carries a lot of capital and they want a piece of that action,” said Xubera.

Monday is the last day South Africans can comment on the draft bill which proposes that the definition of “broadcasting services” be broadened to include online broadcasting services, whether on a TV set or a phone.

In November last year, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams published the draft white paper on the Audio and Audio-Visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020, which gave South Africans until February 15 to voice their opinion.

At the time of inviting public comments on the bill, Ndadeni-Abrahams explained that the intervention was part of a broader plan to increase its revenue through various mechanisms, including getting pay-TV broadcasters like DStv and streaming services such as Netflix to help regulate TV licence compliance.

In addition, the decision to change the law, which traditionally and currently only requires South Africans to pay a TV licence fee for viewing broadcasting services, was made given the proliferation of streaming services like Netflix, Apple, Showmax, etc.

But on the eve of the deadline day to comment on the draft, the DA said it had received 16,364 signatures for a petition it had launched in December 2020 to oppose these plans to extend licence fees to streaming services.

“It is outrageous that South Africans need to cough up money for watching ’broadcast services’ regardless of whether they watch it on a television, a computer or a tablet.

“The only reason the ANC wants to amend the law to include other devices other than a television set is to implement a ’stealth bail-out’ for the SABC. This cannot be condoned.

“The ANC is solely responsible for the demise of the public broadcaster through their political capturing and interference with its operations,” said DA spokesperson on communications and digital technologies, Zakhele Mbhele.

But while the DA intends to oppose these government plans, “the IFP supports the move by the SABC as included in the draft bill which has been open for public comment, to extend the payment of TV licensing fees to streaming services such as Netflix”.

“We believe it is a good strategy for the SABC to generate more income and for the public broadcaster to be updated in an ever-changing media, broadcasting and streaming era,” it said.

“At least with this move, the SABC will have interesting shows and people will be more interested in watching,” said the IFP’s spokesperson on communications and digital technologies.