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Our hands are tied, says SABC

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The public broadcaster believes if it were to enforce the provisions of the Broadcasting Act to collect fully the nearly R1 billion in TV licence revenue this would lead to more than 30% of South Africans being imprisoned.

File photo: ANA/Karen Sandison

THE SABC blames socio-economic and political factors including poverty and possible imprisonment of almost a third of South Africans for its inability to use the law to collect millions of rands in television licence revenue.

The public broadcaster believes if it were to enforce the provisions of the Broadcasting Act to collect fully the nearly R1 billion in TV licence revenue this would lead to more than 30% of South Africans being imprisoned.

The Act provides for the SABC to issue fines of up to R500 or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both to TV licence defaulters.

In 2018/19, the SABC expected to collect over R968 million in TV licence fees but warned that due to the high levels of fee payment evasion by holders, it assessed the probability of receiving the fees on an individual account basis.

According to the SABC, where the timing and amount of receipt cannot be reliably measured and receipt is not considered probable, the revenue is not recognised and that at each annual renewal date, a licence holder is billed their prescribed annual licence fee in terms of legislation.

Acting SABC spokesperson Mmoni Seapolelo told Independent Media that the public broadcaster is unable to implement the legislated recourse due to the socio-economic factors including low or no income households as well as households that depend on social grants which exceed 18 million in the country.

”The SABC would also need to consider a speedy legal solution such as a special court and legal process to speedily and conclusively resolve television licence criminal matters emanating from non-payment,” she said.

Seapolelo said the legal costs of imprisonment to the SABC and the licence holders would also not be feasible as this would mean that more than 30% of South Africans will need to be imprisoned.

In a July 2020 report, the SABC indicated that defaulting TV licence holders are referred to its debt collection agencies should they not pay 60 days after the renewal date.

”This is the only recourse available to the SABC to pursue non-compliant licence holders,” reads the report.

It states that instead of fining or jailing defaulters it uses debt collection agencies and attorneys to collect outstanding licence fees as this is less harsh than utilising the legislated provisions.

The SABC is also planning conduct its debt collection in-house but will require over R217m for additional employees, direct collection and infrastructure and technology costs but this is complicated by the fact that the broadcaster is not a debt collection agency.

Last month, The Sunday Independent reported that the SABC undertook to avoid a projected R330m shortfall in television licence revenue after the National Treasury raised alarm about its appointment of five debt collection agencies who were clueless about its TV licence fees collection systems.

It admitted that the five companies it had hired would only be able to collect R89.7m for 2020/21 when it had budget R419m resulting in a projected shortfall of R329.3m.

At the time, Seapolelo admitted that the absence of debt collection agencies has a negative impact on TV licence revenue and leads to revenue losses from TV licence accounts that are in arrears.