TV licence fees not perculiar to Namibia, say experts ….as practice is common across SADC
By Magreth Nunuhe
Windhoek – Paying television licence fees is not perculiar to Namibia alone but is common across the Southern Africa region, interviews with experts revealed this week.
The broadcasting experts were in Windhoek to attend the SADC-Southern African Broadcasters Association meeting.
Their views come as the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation’s (NBC) is in the eye of a storm for planning to “force” television set owners in Namibia to pay TV licence fees with the assistance of the police.
This has enraged many who feel that the national broadcaster has no right to force citizens to pay for a product (television set) that does not belong to them and that they can also not be pressured to pay for a service that they seemingly do not utilise.
Many took to social media, challenging NBC to improve its content if they want people to comply with paying the license fees, while others accused the NBC of inability to creatively make money, which is why they have now sought to rope in the police to get their money.
But the NBC is adamant that payment of television licence fees is a statutory obligation in terms of an Act passed by Parliament, namely the Namibian Broadcasting Act No. 9 of 1991, as amended, that governs the NBC’s activities.
The Namibian Broadcasting Act 1991 (Act No. 9 of 1991) states that any person who contravenes or fails to comply with a condition of a television licence; obstruct or hinders any person authorised in the exercise of his or her powers, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to conviction or a fine not exceeding R2000.
If in in default of payment, television set owners are also liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months and the court convicting them may in addition to any penalty that it may impose order the confiscation to the State of any television set.
NBC’s legal advisor Yarukeekuro Ndorokaze said that “a television license is required for possessing a TV set and not for the services received from NBC”.
“Simply put, the quality of NBC programming is not a condition for paying a TV licence,” he maintained.
Ndorokaze dismissed claims that the NBC is incapable of finding creative ways of collecting licence fees and said that “it has nothing to do with inability or incapability, but a responsibility to enforce the Act.
“All our kind efforts yielded no results,” he said, adding that the non-payment of a TV licence is both a criminal as well as a civil offense.
He explained that the difference between owing money to a clothing company or a furniture shop and owing a license fee is that the latter is a statutory crime, while the former are a commercial transaction offence, which are dealt differently.
The current licence fee is N$204 (R240) per annum for a household/private person per TV set; N$60 (R60) per annum for a pensioner/war veteran/disabled person per TV set, while businesses pay N$220 (R220) per year for any business, including private and public schools, government departments , clinics and hospitals, bars and shebeens per TV set.
The licence fee remains payable even if the owner of the TV set never watches NBC.
But the questions still loom whether, in this digital age where most countries are now migrating to digital terrestrial television (DTT) and television content can be shared across the globe on various digital platforms, such as iPads and cellular phones, TV licensing has not become obsolete.
The Southern Times spoke to some experts in the SADC region.
Zambia’s Malolela Lusambo, director of engineering at the Zambian National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) echoed NBC’s sentiments, saying that every person that has a TV must pay for the TV license.
“It’s called TV levy. We have got agencies going around verifying if someone has paid a TV levy. If there is obstruction or resistance, the owner of that household can be taken to court. Some of them have actually been jailed before for not paying TV levy,” he said.
He said that law was enacted in 2010, but then it was revised and changed from TV license to TV levy.
“Unfortunately, even despite the levy, the compliance is low, standing at 27 percent,” said Lusambo, adding that the intention was for the public broadcaster to generate content and make its operations effective and efficient.
An institution called Business Regulatory Review conducted a regulatory impact assessment regarding the TV levy for the ZNBC and is to make a submission to the secretary to cabinet, who is to table it in Parliament.
“All this is coming up because the intended purpose for the TV levy has not lived up to expectations,” he said.
Lusambo disclosed that the ZNBC was losing around 3.9 million kwacha (about US$450 000) per month due to non-compliance of TV set owners.
“It is necessary for a license to be paid. It is the obvious way to make sure the public broadcaster is taken care of, because the public broadcaster in many instances reaches areas where there is no business sense at all,” he said.
Lusambo further explained that the national broadcaster reaches out to areas where private broadcasters do not go and someone has to step in.
“Inevitably, the public broadcaster takes that responsibility because universal access to information is a human right. If you deny them, then what is the role of that broadcaster?” he asked.
He said the ZNBC is 100 percent government owned, but the only funding the broadcaster gets from government is indirectly through the TV levy.
“We are depending on that TV license and advertising revenue. Our primary objective is to serve the public in the public interest. We try as much that we get content and publish it so that we are not the source of creating anarchy in the country,” he said, referring to how some private broadcasters the world over liked sensationalism.
Regis Chikowore, principal director at the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services in Zimbabwe, said that in terms of the country’s broadcasting act, it is mandatory that everyone pays for the broadcasting licence.
“We think the situation might change when we move onto DTT, but change not so much in the foregoing of TV licence, but the way we collect the licence fee,” he said.
He added that currently the public broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), was sending out teams to collect fees “and now we may have to revisit the licence fee aspect of it in view of the other independent broadcasters who will come on board after DTT.”
As for now, the ZBC is collecting license fees, licensing inspectors do random checks and if the licence is not paid, the owner of the TV set is breaking the law.
Chikowore said that when they have other players on board the situation will change, which is why they may have to revisit the clause in the Broadcast Services Act that mandates the collection of license fees to the national broadcaster.
“It is not about the choice of content, it is about possessing a receiver,” he maintained.
Bongani Dlamini, CEO of Swaziland Television Authority, said that Swaziland’s situation is almost similar to that of Namibia and Zimbabwe, where they have an Act (of 1985) that enforces the licence fee payment.
“Of course, there are penalties to the extent that you could even go for a jail sentence. But then because we are broadcasters ourselves and not good at collection of fees, we then engaged a legal consultancy to undertake that (collecting fees) on our behalf,” he said.
Dlamini said that the outcome has been very positive when they undertook the aggressive root.
“We have just engaged six months back, but the returns indicators are very beautiful,” he added.
However, the South-African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) Acting CEO, Nomsa Philiso, says that they try to have a different approach regarding the collection of TV licence fees.
“We have had a culture of non-payment – a lot of people do not pay TV license and it is historic,” she said.
She pointed out that resistance to paying TV license started with the apartheid era, when it was a way of protesting that regime.
“Now we need to change the mind-set. It is easier to change the mind-set when you do not criminalise people for non-payment of TV license. It’s important that they pay, but we think there is a different approach,” she opined.
Philiso said one such mechanism is making use of debt agencies.
“We work with debt agencies till we exhaust all means,” she said, adding that they also enlisted defaulters with credit bureaus.
The compliance of those who pay the TV licence is less than 50 percent in South Africa, “but nowhere near where we want it to be.”
With 11 million households in the country that own TV sets, the revenue that is derived from licence is very little, according Philiso.
“We also have an issue with people saying that they will pay only when we have good content. Now, you know content is expensive. We see the trend when we go on a repeat cycle. We get upset if they do not pay,” she said.
The annual television licence fee in South Africa is R265.
“I think there is a way to conduct it – a way to do it so that it is not completely attached to a television set, because if you look at the way we are consuming content now, there is a variety of devices, but they need to pay for the signal,” she pointed out.
Philiso said that paying only for a television set was short-sighted, while there are so many devices that can actually receive a signal.
“People can watch our programmes on the phone, iPad, and the generation that is coming in now, is concerned about watching TV on a couch; they want to watch it on the go. There is definitely room to rethink how we can collect the money in 2017 compared to 1990,” she argued.
Octavio Machado, head of engineering and spectrum management department at the Angolan Institute of Communication, said that in Angola, only satellite TV is paid, while there is no fee for national television.
“But the government is preparing a package for people to start paying,” he said.