THE new Public Service Broadcasting Bill — which could drastically change the way the SABC operates — came as a complete surprise, a senior member of the corporation said, writes Chantelle Benjamin in Business Day.

He said the broadcaster’s interim board and its management only saw the bill “when it was on the communications department website”. “Journalists knew about it before the SABC did,” he said. “The SABC was never consulted on the act or the mechanism for releasing it.”

The timing of the release of the bill — last Thursday — which if enacted would abolish television licences, was not ideal for the SABC, which is in the middle of its collection period for licence fees.

Kate Skinner, spokeswoman for the Save Our SABC Coalition, said confusion about payments caused by the release of the bill, could cause a shortfall of about 5%-6% in licence payments, which the SABC can ill afford. This happened about 15 years ago, she said, when there were discussions of policy changes and the public was not sure if they should pay their licences anymore.

Interim board chairwoman Irene Charnley refused to deny or confirm that the board had any knowledge of the bill before it was gazetted last Thursday. “The bill is here and we intend submitting our response before December 7,” she said.

SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago confirmed that the SABC was receiving queries from the public whether they should continue paying their TV licences. “We have briefed the licensing call centre and they are explaining to the public that at this point it is a draft bill and not a final document. And that it would only fall away, if and when, the bill becomes an act.”

Meanwhile, the coalition is requesting an urgent meeting with Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda. The coalition said it would write to the minister yesterday to request more time for consultation, arguing that the December 7 deadline was too close.

Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.