Government’s proposal to expand the definition of broadcasting devices that require a TV license to include smartphones, laptops and tablets will be approved or nixed in the coming months.

The public consultation period of the proposal, which was first approved in September 2020, has been extended until February 15, according to Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. She said this in response to a written parliamentary Q&A, reports BusinessTech.

“The department has since gazetted the Draft White Paper [on Audio and Audio-Visual Content Services] for public comments, which have now been extended till 15 February 2021 to give the stakeholders enough time to engage with the complex proposals raised within the policy framework,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said section of the draft paper refers to the SABC and license matters. It proposes that:

“Provisions of the financial matters and staffing of the Corporation are necessary, although they require review and consequential amendments to the TV licence fee section to broaden the definition and collection system for television licences and to strengthen enforcement mechanisms and penalties of non-payment”.

The achievement of the above is dependent on the submissions made by all South Africans towards the draft White Paper, said the Minister.

SABC Head of TV Licenses Sylvia Tladi believes change is needed to improve compliance and ensure the regulation remains relevant to the technology climate of today.

“The ‘traditional’ television set is no longer the only means of receiving a television broadcast,” she said in November 2020.

Tladi once again said that the current regulations are outdated and prohibit the public broadcaster from competing in the media environment “as much as everyone else is doing”.

She added: “Bear in mind that the Broadcasting Act was last amended in 1999, whereas the TV licence regulations are 16 years old. In that time, there has been a significant development in the manner in which content is being consumed.”

Tladi indicated that the broadcaster was considering working with companies like Multichoice and Netflix to improve TV license fees payments.

“We would like obligations to be placed on companies that sell set-top boxes, decoders, to be able to ensure that when people apply for a subscription, there needs to be a process where it can be validated that they do have a current TV Licence,” she said.

The SABC previously proposed that regulations must be amended to compel streaming platforms like Netflix and DStv to collect TV license fees on their behalf, in a presentation to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee in October 2020.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is vehemently opposed to the proposed changes to broadcasting regulations and launched a petition pleading with the public to make their voices heard by February.

The petition was launched about a month ago, in December 2020, and set a target of 20 000 signatures. As of January 7, it has received 2345.

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