If like me you don’t have satellite tv and you had a little more free time than normal over the last few weeks and rather than the wrestling feast that seems to be on e-tv almost 24hours a day…  Hang on, I know this is mid sentence but really there is a new programme on e-tv that makes Cheaters look like good television.  It is called Diva Diaries and it appears to be an excuse for scantily clad women to “wrestle.”  Now don’t get me wrong I am all for lowest common denominator media, we all need a break from reality and there is a lot to be said about tabloids and mind numbing television programmes but in the case of Diva Diaries it is just mind numbingly bad. Naturalising violence against women, stupidity and sexism in one programme is a minor feat I guess and it makes the other wrestling look like brilliant programming.

Watch it if you want to be patronised and ask yourself if these are really the role models we want to be giving our girl and boy children?  Then ask the same question to etv.  At least etv adheres to guidelines when it shows these programmes with most of the wrestling programmes showing a PG10 rating at regular intervals.  Not so for Woolworths, Mr. Price and other “reputable” shops which actively target under-ten year old children by selling wrestling branded clothes for 2 and 3 year olds.  It is common for people to blame the media and etv has come under fire repeatedly for screening some of its programmes, but are the media the only ones who should be scrutinised when we have big brands actively undermining Film and Publication Board Age Ratings by targeting younger children with wrestling branded clothes?

Anyway, back to where I started, if like me you don’t have satellite tv and you had a little more free time than normal and rather than the wrestling feast that seems to be on e-tv almost 24hours a day, and you happen to watch TV at odd hours due to having small children, you may have been lucky enough to see the SABC TV licence song.  No really, the SABC TV licence department made a song in which the staff are the performers. You can view it here.

 It really is quite extraordinary.

The first time I saw the song was in 2007 also around the Christmas period, and I was convinced I must have been dreaming having seen it late at night and everyone else I asked about it though the idea was too crazy to be true.  Luckily we had a Dutch volunteer working at MMA at the time and during his Christmas break he spent most of his time either in bars or else in front of the television watching cricket and he too saw the song which proved its existence.

The song made me wonder.  I wondered was why on earth SABC had spent money making a song, then making a song about TV licences and THEN making a song about thanking people for having paid their TV licences especially when the majority of people in South Africa do not actually pay their TV licences.  TV licence revenue accounts for roughly 18% of SABC’s income so we really are talking about a relatively small group of South Africans to whom we can say, “thank you for making a difference.”

The principle of a TV licence isn’t I don’t think a bad thing, it seems to work for the BBC, or at least it has for a while, so yes pay your tv licence, “it is the right thing to do” – no matter what you think of the quality of programming.  If you have a problem with SABC do something, use our system of complaints on the website (https://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/index.php/interactive/media_complaint_guide/)  and let the SABC know.  Get involved in the SOS campaign, picket and protest, send letters and emails, start facebook groups, whatever jingles your bells but positive action is always more likely to lead to something better than simply whining about the tv licence.

I say pay it even though it is a stupid and profoundly unfair system at the moment in South Africa.  MMA firmly supports public funding of a public broadcaster but it needs to be fairly applied and it needs to happen at an arms length relationship from the state who are generally responsible for dealing with public funds.  Certainly the tv licence system we have seems to be an ill-suited and unfair system for South Africa. We have an ever widening gap between rich and poor people in South Africa yet all are expected to pay the same licence fee.  Only when you are a major corporation that requires many many licences do you qualify for a 25% discount.  (see http://www.tvlic.co.za/portal/site/tvlicence/menuitem.a4564c26c082d706e16a84b45401aeb9/)  So if you are a major business or hotel with lots of tv’s you get a discount, or if you can afford a big house in Sandton and earn six figure salaries you still pay only R225. But if you are poor and have very little access to most services you get no discount and you still have to pay R225/year. Nice.  Fantastically unfair and sadly the same applies to banking where the richer you are the less you pay in bank fees etc, but this is the nature of our capitalist system.

Frankly the tv licence system as it is sucks.  I wonder just how much of the income from the licences actually goes towards the SABC’s public service mandate and how much is spent on those largely horrible tv adverts that try guilt us into paying our tv licences, or on policing the system, sending out inspectors, and the call centre? Not only is the system unfair but it is resource intensive, and all for only R225.  It must be said that in spite of the rapid and in many instances criminal price increases we have endured in food etc SABC has not increased the tv licence fee, it is some small consolation.  MMA, FXI and a few others have for years been calling for a new funding system, more recently this has been a central issue for the SOS coalition and it is also a key issue in the ANC’s Polokwane resolutions.  We will do all we can from our side to assist in brining about a better funding system for the SABC.

So why the song and how could they make a sing-a-long style rhyming song with the words “tv licences” in it?  Perhaps they were thinking of it as some kind of positive incentive to those who haven’t paid to do so, so they too can be included the next time the tv licence team sings to them.  It isn’t clear.  What is clear is that in spite of its ridiculous lyrics, and possibly because it is so bizarre as to be comical, I find myself constantly singing, “thank you South Africa thank you, thank you for paying your tv licences.”  While my singing drives my family and colleagues insane singing is probably a good thing at the start of a new year.

Happy 2009!