(The Southern African Times) – International streaming services like Netflix, Apple +, Showmax, and Amazon Prime will have to pay licence fees in South Africa in future, and may also have to ensure that 30% of their content on offer here was produced locally.
On Wednesday, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies confirmed these planned interventions in a presentation to parliament about a new draft white paper for the broadcasting industry.
Last month, the government drew public outrage when the communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams alluded to a proposal that would see Netflix and Multichoice collect broadcast licence fees – which will be paid to the state broadcaster SABC – from their users.
This unpopular proposal is aimed at propping up the SABC, which suffered a loss of more than half a billion rand in the past year.
On Wednesday, the department confirmed to the Portfolio Committee on Communications that it had already received 20,000 comments about its proposals.
But the department told the committee that it plans to push ahead to amend its definition of “broadcasting services” in South Africa to include Netflix, Apple +, Showmax, and Amazon Prime, and to subjecting those platforms to licensing fees.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) will be tasked with determining these fees and holding to account international services which fail to comply. This includes the establishment of a team, which would work closely with South African banks, to halt subscription payments to uncooperative service providers.
In addition to international tariffs, government proposes that at least 30% of all content streamed in South Africa needs to be produced locally.
“These video-on-demand subscription services, when they come and operate in South Africa, everything that they show to South Africans in terms of their catalogue, 30% of that catalogue must include South African content,” says Collin Mashile, Chief Director of Broadcasting Policy at the Department of Communications. “In every country, the most popular shows remain the local shows.”
As part of the presentation to parliament, Mashile admitted that the new regulations would allow the SABC an opportunity to recapture part of the South African market and give the state broadcaster a better competitive edge.
Enforcement of these regulatory proposals will, however, be difficult. According to the DA’s Phumzile Van Damme, government’s drive to collect licence payments from international services – which will, inevitably, be paid by the local viewer – will end in fruitless litigation.
“This China-esque ‘censorship bureau’ stands in stark violation to the right of all South Africans to a free-flow of information, and would not meet the constitutional standard of the limitation of this right by government,” Van Damme said during the committee meeting in reference to the department’s proposal to halt payments to streaming services.
It was announced that the public comment process, which was initially due to end on 30 October, had been extended to 15 February 2021, and comments about the draft white paper can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org