Tuesday, May 25, 2010

“KE NAKO” – the time is now for the SABC board

25 May 2010

How did we get here? A brief outline of the key events over the past few days:
  • SABC Board Chairperson announces appointment of new head of news for SABC on 20/05/2010. This follows a period of over a year of Mr Phil Molefe filling the job as Acting Head of News;
  • Appointment refuted by SABC Board members, who say they had no knowledge of the decision and that processes had not been completed. Highlighted in several daily news media on 21/05/2010;
  • SABC Board Chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane released a statement saying the appointment of Phil Molefe as head of news was in his view legal on 22/05/2010,
  • SABC Board meets on 22/05/2010 and 10 of the 12 members declare the appointment of Mr Molefe null and void;
  • Reports emerge that Phil Molefe instructs journalists not to use any sources other than SABC Chairperson and or Group GCEO emerge suggesting censorship for self gain on 25/05/2010;
  • Report published in The Star that the Minister for Communications has indicated he will become involved and intervene on his return to South Africa on 25/05/2010;

Despite the breach in corporate governance in the appointment and announcement of Phil Molefe, as head of News, to date there has been no indication that the new SABC board is incapable of fulfilling its mandate. Accordingly the actions of the SABC board are to be applauded in seeking to resolve this breach of SABC’s corporate governance rules so speedily. We are however concerned that there has not yet been any announcement as to what action will be taken against the SABC board chairperson and the SABC GCEO and we call on the Board to inform the public about what processes and investigations are being undertaken to address the breach, and to ensure its speedy resolution.

Reports that the Minister of Communication will “intervene” to solve the issue are cause for alarm. While the Board clearly needs to be informing and updating the public, parliament, ICASA and the Department of Communication on an ongoing basis, it would be a serious blow to the new boards’ independence as well as that of the SABC if the Minister were to intervene and issue directives. The board needs to be given the space and support in order to resolve this issue without outside intervention, and there is little evidence to suggest that the board is incapable and in crisis.

MMA is also deeply concerned by media reports in The Star newspaper and others, alleging interference by the Acting Head of news Mr Phil Molefe. Reports in the Star highlight that Mr Molefe allegedly instructed SABC journalists not to use any other sources for reports on the appointment issue other than the SABC Board Chairperson or SABC group GCEO. Ordinarily it is clearly the role of the Head of news to determine ultimately what is included and what is excluded from the news. In the current instance however, there is a clear conflict of interest in Mr Molefe making such interventions about a story directly related to him and his position. If these allegations are true they indicate an abuse of SABC resources and power for self interest. Accordingly we call on the board to suspend Mr Molefe pending a full investigation into these allegations. Should these allegations then be found to be accurate MMA would expect the board to initiate formal disciplinary proceedings and take appropriate action.

MMA applauds the respectful tone and comments reportedly made by the parliamentary portfolio committee on communication Chairperson Mr Ismail Vadi. He was quoted as saying, that “at some point”, the committee would want a full, formal report from both the board and the chairperson about the process followed. These comments indicate that he is open to allowing the SABC Board to resolve the problem on their own but still holding them accountable for their actions. MMA notes with concern the deafening silence from ICASA on the issue. To date all other SABC oversight bodies have made their voices heard on the matter. As it is Africa day, Halala Africa, Ke Nako it is time! – The time is now ICASA let us hear your voice!

For more information contact William Bird 082 887 1370 or 011 788 1278.