SABC tracks down fee foes

License inspectors to go after non-payers

JOHANNESBURG — Having tried the carrot, South African pubcaster SABC is now turning to the stick using a high-tech, hardline inspectorate to track down license-fee scofflaws.

In the past the South African Broadcasting Corp. has tried both approaches to get more viewers to pay the annual license fee of 225 rand ($33) a TV set, with less than satisfactory results.

First there were the threats of severe financial penalties — and even prison — if caught, which was always unlikely given manpower shortages and an inefficient collection system.

Then the SABC offered prizes in competitions for paid-up players. Recently an advertising campaign appealed to viewers’ morality, asking them to “do the right thing” so that the nation could enjoy better programming.

Despite that, the SABC estimates there are 3 million non-payers among the country’s 7 million TV set owners. The pubcaster

receives about 20% ($110 million) of its annual operating revenue from TV licenses, but hopes the new inspectorate will increase this to at least 30% by tracking down non-payers.

Indeed, license dodgers will have nowhere to hide, says Anton Heunis, head of the SABC’s audience services division. The pubcaster has contracted four regional service providers equipped with the latest technology to help find defaulting TV viewers.

The 560 license inspectors will use a GPS mapping system to identify households and businesses that owe fees, according to the SABC’s TV license database.

The inspectors will be able to look up and update a licensee’s personal information on the database instantly.

Inspectors will then follow up with door-to-door visits, Heunis says. Perpetrators will have to pay the license fee plus a penalty of double the license fee.

“We are very excited about the new technology and its ability to facilitate television license payment,” Heunis says.

Despite the stringent approach, SABC group chief executive Dali Mpofu called the move the “right thing to do.”

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