The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition
Truth telling and accountability needed to resolve crises at the SABC
19 October 2010
The "SOS: Support Public Broadcasting" Coalition 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 Workers World Media Productions (WWMP); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists note the fact that four board members have now formally resigned and that the President has accepted their resignations.
SOS views this situation with ever increasing alarm. Our SABC is facing seemingly continuous serious governance and financial crises, with no end in sight. The situation calls for immediate decisive leadership - and action from all parties involved including the SABC Board and its oversight structures.
Firstly, SOS believes we need some forthright candidness from the Board members themselves in order to begin to rebuild the Board's tattered reputation. In the Parliamentary hearing tomorrow Parliamentarians need to ask Board members some tough questions and Board members need to be prepared to answer them. Questions should include the following:
- How the Head of News, Phil Molefe, was appointed including the nature of the procedural breaches surrounding this and how these breaches were remedied to ensure consistency with good corporate governance practices and protocols.
- The issues surrounding the suspension of the CEO, Mr. Solly Mokoetle, including the decision taken around the appointment of the Acting CEO, Mr Robin Nicholson. Further, we need to understand the Board's subsequent decisions to reverse Nicholson's appointment in order to consider the employment of an Acting CEO not presently employed by the SABC – despite the fact that this directly contradicts the SABC's Articles of Association.
- We need to know if any board member has done paid work for the SABC and if so what procedures were followed to ensure proper authorisation. Also, has any board member unprocedurally employed friends or family to posts in the SABC?
- Also, we need to understand the kind of relationship board members have with their Board chairperson given the fact that they previously claimed that their relationship had irretrievably broken down.
- Also, and most importantly, it appears that the ongoing crises in governance at the SABC have encouraged inappropriate Ministerial interference. This is despite the fact that the Broadcasting Act, 1999 is very clear, "The Board controls the affairs of the corporation". We thus need to know in what ways have board members and the Board collectively invited Ministerial interference and conversely how Board members have ensured the independence of the SABC from both direct government and commercial influence.
- Finally, in terms of the Board, we need a thorough examination of the SABC's financial situation including a detailed explanation of what is happening in terms of the SABC's critical turnaround strategy.
We believe that if these issues are not sufficiently aired and discussed and decisively resolved it will be difficult to move forward. The accusations and counter-accusations have eroded the credibility of the Board. These issues need to be aired and decisively dealt with before it is possible to begin a process of selecting new candidates for the Board. There is certainly urgency in this regard. We must ensure that the Board continues to quorate. Board members serve a three month notice period. The notice periods of two Board members, who have resigned, are almost up. Parliament must urgently deal with the governance crises at hand and then swiftly move to replace these members.
Secondly, in terms of the oversight structures themselves (including the Executive, Parliament, and ICASA) we need some introspection and a clear examination of their roles in the exacerbation of the ongoing crises. Parliament, for instance, inexplicably delayed holding a hearing into the governance crises at the SABC when Board members had made it clear that corporate governance breaches had taken place as regards the appointment of the Head of News. Then when Parliament eventually did hold a hearing it took the unfortunate decision to hold this behind closed doors. The South African National Editors' Forum then got a court interdict to compel Parliament to hold its proceedings in the open. Parliament then indefinitely postponed the session – so that the governance crises continued to remain unresolved. Only the SABC Board Chairperson was given space to put forward his views, prejudicing to other Board members. Parliament's role, the role of the Minister in resolving the conflict and ICASA's continued total absence in taking responsibility for the SABC need all to be carefully examined.
For more information:
Kate Skinner – SOS Coordinator – (082) 926-6404
Patrick Craven – Spokesperson Cosatu – (082) 821-7456
Matankana Mothapo – Spokesperson Communications Workers Union – (082) 759-0900
Marc Schwinges – South African Screen Federation – (083) 901-2000
William Bird – Director Media Monitoring Africa – (082) 887-1370