The SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) has said that all new pay
television operators should be obliged to carry its channels and to pay
for the privilege, writes Bate Felix.

In a submission to regulatory body, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) on hearings into commercial satellite and cable subscription broadcasting licenses, SABC’s head for content enterprise Mvuso Mbebe said, “Regulations must impose an obligation on Pay TV operators to carry the public service television channels (SABC 1, 2, and soon to be launched 4 and 5) and compensate the SABC accordingly.”

The SABC also said that regulations around the “must carry / must pay” issue should be finalised before any licences are issued.

Other operators bidding for a license like E-Sat (e.TV) have objected to this, instead proposing that the national broadcaster pay them to have its channels on their platform, a proposal that Mbebe described as absurd.

Dan Rosengarten, legal counsel for E-Sat, said it would be inappropriate to impose the must-carry provision.

Mbebe said the public broadcaster plays an enormous role in providing news and information, promoting nation building and democracy, supporting South African content, exposing all national languages and providing access to all sports of national interest.

“One of the objects of the Electronic Communications Act is to protect the integrity and the viability of the public broadcaster, it is surely for this reason that the law provides for must carry/must pay,” Mbebe said.

He added pay-TV operators are private users of public space and it is only right that they should compensate the public broadcaster for the use of its content, intellectual property and in some cases the cost associated with rights clearance.

“It must be understood that all the SABC is looking for is to ensure fair compensation for the use of its content,” said Mbebe.

In its submission, the public broadcaster also requested two clauses be included in the pay TV licenses that stipulates that all Pay TV operators must be obliged to ensure that their subscribers are in possession of valid TV licenses as stipulated by Broadcasting Act.

Brushing aside concerns about this proposal, the SABC said, “We simply want pay TV operators to verify that subscribers have a valid TV license at the time of subscribing and at regular intervals thereafter and to report regularly to the SABC.”

“There is consensus that SABC should become less reliant on commercial revenues – one of the key mechanisms to achieve this is to increase TV license payments.”

TV license fee income currently constitutes 20 percent of the SABC’s annual operating revenue and there is clearly an opportunity to grow this revenue stream, the broadcaster said.