Friday, August 13, 2010

SOS letter to the Chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, Mr Ismail Vadi

This letter has just been sent to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee:

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition

Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Communications
Mr Ismail Vadi

Cc. Members of the SABC Board

13 August 2010

Dear Mr. Vadi

Civil society concerns about the lack of oversight and corporate governance breaches at the SABC

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 (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA) and the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists, welcome the fact that Parliament has taken the decision to intervene to ensure that there is proper oversight over public broadcaster, the SABC.

SOS’s understanding is that at the heart of the SABC’s ongoing troubles is the persistence undermining of the governance role of the Board. The most immediate manifestations of this are power battles over the performance of the GCEO, Solly Mokoetle. Mr Mokoetle has ignored and over-turned Board decisions and has been supported in this by the Chair of the SABC, Dr. Ben Ngubane, who appears disinterested in the opinion of the majority of the Board. Dr. Ngubane does not appear to believe that he needs the approval of his Board on any matter, or indeed that their strong disapproval should sway his unilateral decisions. Board members have declared a “vote of no confidence” in the Chair. Since, May 2010 board meetings have been constantly cancelled leading to a situation where no real interrogation and action is being taken against the Chair. Further, no real oversight has been taken over key governance and financial issues for a number of months. Also, the Deputy Chair, who by convention is allowed to talk to the media, has remained silent on developments.

SOS notes that there was a very active and transparent public nomination process for the new Board, which in general provided us with a competent set of board members with the requisite integrity and skills to hold the confidence of organised elements of civil society including the SOS. However, over the last months, effective oversight and leadership of the SABC has suffered deeply due to stand-off between the Chair of the Board and CEO and the rest of the Board members. This has deepened the political, economic and governance crises the SABC has faced over a number of years.

After eight months in office the Board has not been able to draft a critical turn-around strategy for the corporation. In addition the lack of board meetings have meant none of the policy issues addressed to the SABC by the independent production sector – or the unions - have been addressed.

SOS believes that the prospect of the resignation of numerous members of the Board, that in general has the confidence of the public, will be devastating for the future of the public broadcaster.

The SABC can only be stabilised and begin to thrive if the foundational governance principles are adhered to. At present the institution is being torn asunder for what can only be described as dubious reasons. SOS believes strongly that the control of the SABC has to be in the hands of the Board that was put in place by a public and democratic process. Without this SOS believes the SABC is no longer accountable to the public.

Without a functioning board the public will continue to see the unabated strategy of repeats on their screens, the independent production sector will continue to shrink alongside SABC’s income, and the morale of staff at the SABC will continue to drop, leading to the loss of talent in and outside the SABC. The SABC will continue to lose audience share in an increasingly competitive environment.

SOS thus welcomes Parliament’s decision to exercise its oversight role over the SABC and to investigate the controversy around the appointment of the Head of News, progress (or lack thereof) related to the drafting of the SABC’s turnaround strategy and the overall functionality of the Board. Further SOS expects - in light of the overwhelming evidence that exists of corporate governance breaches at the SABC - that Parliament in line with the amended Broadcasting Act, will take action to finally remove the Chair of the Board.
Yours sincerely

SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition