Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SOS News Letter to the Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Communications

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition

Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Communications
Mr Ismail Vadi

Cc. Chair and members of the SABC Board

7 September 2010

Dear Mr. Vadi

SOS believes that Parliament should urgently reconvene its hearing into governance crises at the SABC

The “SOS: Support Public Broadcasting” Campaign representing a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA and BEMAWU; independent film and TV production sector 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, urge Parliament to swiftly reconvene its hearing into the governance crises at the SABC. The Coalition believes that every day that the hearings are delayed the governance crisis at the SABC is deepened.

Originally the Parliamentary hearing was called for Tuesday 24th August 2010. At this point the hearing was already well overdue. In May 2010 11 non-executive SABC Board members had issued a statement outlining serious corporate governance breaches at the SABC as regards the appointment of the Head of News. The Chair of the Board, Dr. Ben Ngubane, had unilaterally, in violation of the Broadcasting Act, 1999 and the SABC’s Articles of Association appointed the Head of News. Hearings into the matter however were delayed for many months. The corporate governance breaches were not reversed and the governance crisis at the SABC deepened as a result.

When Parliament eventually called a hearing for 24 August 2010 the SOS Coalition welcomed the announcement. However, Parliament at that point decided to hold its morning session behind closed doors arguing that sensitive legal information might be revealed. The plan was to hold an open session in the afternoon. The South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) however argued that it was entirely inappropriate for Parliament, as representatives of the general public, to hold its hearings, behind closed doors. SANEF managed to secure an urgent court interdict forcing Parliament to open its doors. At that point Parliament had only heard the evidence from one person, Dr. Ben Ngubane. The rest of the Board members were not able to table their evidence. The meeting was immediately adjourned with the Board members not being heard. Parliament decided to take the matter on appeal.

SOS believes that a new date needs to be set urgently to reconvene the hearing. The hearing should be held in the open. Given the flurry of rumours and allegations that have surfaced in the public domain a closed session would serve no good purpose. An open hearing would serve the debate and public interest better. Further, SOS believes that Parliament should publically release all the supporting documentation that was tabled at the closed meeting. A number of these documents are already in the public domain and to ensure a balanced view all documentation should now be released.

We can not afford to wait any longer on these issues – the crisis is deepening daily. Because of the divisions within the Board between the Chair and the rest of the Board, the SABC is effectively operating without an oversight structure. Also, two board members have now resigned further weakening governance structures. This is an untenable situation.

Finally, what must be borne in mind is that with each drawn-out governance crisis the ability to convince quality candidates to serve as Board members is undermined - and the long-term sustainability of the SABC suffers. Hence it is paramount to find a speedy and sensible resolution to the crisis. In short, the SABC Board must be empowered and charged with following international best practice as a public broadcaster.

Please get back to us at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely

SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition