The SABC Bill, which was approved by cabinet for submission to parliament last week, does not deal decisively with the public broadcaster’s funding crisis.
Rather, the bill – which TechCentral read on Tuesday – appears to kick the entire funding model can down the road.
The bill, which will replace the Broadcasting Act when it is eventually enacted, states that the minister of communications – currently Mondli Gungubele – must within three years of the bill becoming law develop a “funding model framework” to ensure “the majority of the corporation’s funding is sourced from state-based funding mechanisms”.
Before doing so, though, the minister must develop a “comprehensive and relevant feasibility study to inform a clear business case for the corporation’s funding model in consultation with the minister of finance”.
The final funding model framework, which will also draw on public comment, must be submitted to cabinet for approval. Once in place, it can be reviewed, at the communications minister’s discretion, in consultation with the minister of finance, every three years.
The bill had been expected to deal once and for all with the issue of SABC TV licences, where compliance by the South African public has fallen to a record low. Most people have simply stopped paying TV licence fees, with nearly nine in 10 South Africans who own a means of receiving the SABC channels electing not to pay the fee, despite it being a legal requirement.
The three-year delay in developing a funding model, as proposed in the bill, could put the SABC in a difficult position financially. Its finances are already on shaky ground: last week, it told parliament that it had recorded a R1.1-billion net loss for the 2023 financial year. Its cash flow position has also weakened.
The bill still makes it an offence for individuals or businesses not to pay a TV licence if one is required. Also, non-payment is punishable by a fee equal to double the amount owing to the SABC. TV owners can be fined R500 per offence if convicted of non-payment and could also be imprisoned for up to six months.
Anyone caught selling a TV without first checking if the buyer has a valid TV licence can be fined as much as R10 000 per incident.
Under the new bill, the SABC will be restructured into two separate operational services, namely public and commercial.
These entities “must be separately administered and a separate set of financial records and accounts are to be kept in respect of both services”, the bill said. The public component will be funded from advertising and sponsorships, TV licences and donations.
The broadcaster must submit a proposed budget for public services annually to the communications minister for approval. It must also submit a three-year business plan containing details of operational, marketing and financial plans.
The corporation must establish a commercial subsidiary, too, that is responsible for public commercial broadcasting. This company will be expected to subsidise the public component of the SABC’s mandate. It must also be run in “an efficient manner so as to maximise the revenues provided to the corporation”. It will have its own board made up of nine members. – © 2023 NewsCentral Media
- TechCentral will have more on the SABC Bill on Wednesday