Sunday, December 6, 2009

Civil society responds to the shift in deadline for submissions to 15 January 2010 on the Public Service Broadcasting Bill

SOS: Supporting Public Broadcasting, previously Save our SABC: Reclaiming our Public Broadcaster

Civil society responds to the shift in deadline for submissions to 15 January 2010 on the Public Service Broadcasting Bill

4 December 2009

The “Save our SABC” Campaign representing a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA and BEMAWU; independent producer organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); and a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute, Media Monitoring Africa, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the National Community Radio Forum; as well as a number of academic and independent experts welcome the fact that the Department of Communications has shifted the deadlines for comment on the Bill from 7 December 2009 to 15 January 2010. However, we do note that this extension is over the Christmas period and this certainly significantly hampers our ability to research, debate and consult on the issues raised by the Bill. We had originally asked for an extension until the end of March 2010.

However, one sector will certainly benefit from the extension – the community media sector. This gives members of the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF) representing 105 stations nation-wide and a 150 communication activists from civil society organisations an opportunity to gather in Upington, Northern Cape next week at the Media Mindblast conference to develop a shared response to the Bill.

The Coalition notes again that this Bill introduces fundamental policy shifts that seek to transform the landscape of broadcasting in the country. This potentially impacts on every citizen in South Africa either as a tax payer or as a viewer or listener of TV or radio. We reiterate that some of the fundamental policy shifts include:

1. The Bill aligns broadcasting to the “developmental goals of the Republic” and the developmental state. Previously broadcasting was aligned to the Constitution.

2. The Bill introduces fundamental shifts to the broadcasting funding environment. It calls for the scrapping of TV licence fees and for amendments to the Income Tax Act, 1962, to ensure that up to 1% of personal income tax is set aside for public broadcasting.

3. In terms of funding, it introduces a new Public Service Broadcasting Fund to be administered by the Media Development and Diversity Agency, requiring that the MDDA Act is amended. The Fund is mandated to finance a wide-ranging set of functions, including the public service division of the SABC (together with regional television and international broadcasting services), content development, community broadcasting services, and signal distribution. The MDDA at present funds small commercial and community media and is specifically barred from getting involved in editorial independence issues.

4. The Bill introduces far-reaching new powers for the Minister of Communications. The Minister can now issue directives to the SABC and community media on “any matter connected to public service broadcasting” if the entity is unable to “perform its functions as prescribed in this Act”.

5. Previously the SABC was split into two divisions – public and public-commercial. The SABC is now to be divided into three separate divisions – public, commercial and international.

6. Sentech has now been designated as the common signal distribution carrier, requiring amendments to the Electronic Communications Act, 2005.

7. Finally, and importantly, community media’s role has now been reconceptualised. A new Charter has been introduced for the community media sector specifying the ways in which the community media sector needs to be organised. Further, the Bill ensures community media forge partnerships with their local municipalities.

In light of these major policy shifts the Coalition still calls for a proper policy review process including a review of the Broadcasting White Paper, 1998. In line with sound law making practices we believe that the policy review process should proceed the drafting of new legislation.

The Coalition will certainly respond to the new deadline of the 15th of January but ideally we still believe that the deadline should be shifted to the very minimum to mid February 2010 to allow for a genuinely consultative process. We still believe the present process is unnecessarily rushed and we are still not certain as to the reasons. People can sign up on the Media Monitoring Africa website to call for a less rushed, proper policy review process on

Finally, we once again respectfully request access to the research done by the Department of Communications that informed the proposals in this Bill. We feel that this will better facilitate our understanding of the thinking behind the proposals put forward in the Bill.

For more information please contact:

Kate Skinner – (082) 926-6404
Tawana Kupe – (078) 459-6041
William Bird – (082) 887-1370