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Right2Know Warns Zuma Against Recapturing The Public Broadcaster

There have been three ministers of communication in just 10 months. No wonder there is ministerial instability.

19/10/2017 10:00 SAST | Updated 19/10/2017 10:00 SAST
Daily Maverick

Noting that the delay in appointing a permanent board for the SABC was unlawful, unconstitutional, and tantamount to undermining the National Assembly, President Jacob Zuma has appointed loyalists to lead the SABC board. Zuma's chairperson, Bongumusa Makhathini, is currently the chairperson of one of the Zuma family's foundations (Ngema-Zuma Foundation).

Makhatini's deputy chair, Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, while she was part of the interim board that did a sterling job, is a close associate of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and is herself a candidate for a place in the ANC's National Executive Council, which is a cause of concern.

We are relieved that the SABC now has a board. The SABC, though, still only has acting executives, including acting chief operations officer (COO) Bessie Tugwana, and the controversial acting group chief executive 0fficer (GCEO), Nomsa Philiso, who the (former) minister of communications gave extraordinary powers without even informing Parliament.

The minister should have had no hand in appointing SABC executives. This has been confirmed by the High Court ruling in the case of SOS/FXI/MMA and R2K versus the minister of communications. The former minister was in contravention of the Broadcasting Act and consistently undermined the independence of the SABC.

Once we have had to fall back on the courts to defend our democracy. There have been seven ministers of communication in the last eight years, and three ministers of communication in just 10 months. No wonder there is ministerial instability.

The SABC must not lean towards politically biased coverage, neither actively nor indirectly suppress views and content deemed to be critical of the ruling political and economic elites.

R2K nevertheless demands that the board professionally discharge its mandate and ensure that:

  • Governance and management structures of the SABC are independent of government at all levels, and of private sector interests. The board is supposed to implement the recommendations by Parliament's ad hoc committee and the Public Protector's report on the SABC's governance lapses.
  • All people have access to the SABC and that the public broadcaster, to enable this, is well-resourced from both public and other noncommercial sources. It is incumbent on the board to resolve the institution's current financial crisis and ensure that SABC staff and independent producers do not bear the brunt of the previous management's corrupt practices.
  • There are no censorship policies. The SABC must not lean towards politically biased coverage, neither actively nor indirectly suppress views and content deemed to be critical of the governing political and economic elites. Editorial policies must be the outcome of a participatory process that engages key stakeholders. The stalled Editorial Policy Review process must, therefore, be immediately expedited.
  • Competent executives, fully committed to the SABC's mandate -- including a permanent CEO, COO and chief financial officer -- are appointed. The Broadcasting Act, Section 14 (1), concerning the executive committee, makes absolutely no provision for the ministerial appointment of executive members, and as such it is incumbent on the Board to resist any undue interference in this process by the minister of communications.
The board must urgently convene a broad-based stakeholders' consultative meeting in order to allow for the people's participation in the rejuvenation of the public broadcaster.

The board should take all necessary measures to end the climate of harassment and intimidation of SABC's workers and to raise the morale of staff. This must include a full investigation of the role and conduct of the State Security Agency in investigating employees, and an end to the problematic "interception" clauses in recent SABC employments contracts that force workers to consent to interception of their communications.

Further, the board should ensure that the SABC adopts comprehensive policies on protecting workers' communication and personal information, as well as a whistleblower charter that will protect and promote whistleblowing within the organisation. R2K notes the grave concerns expressed by SABC staff, most of whom are represented by the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers' Union (BEMAWU). The Right2Know Campaign unreservedly supports the SABC staff's rights to engage in a legal strike action and calls upon the board to ensure that BEMAWU's 13 demands are met forthwith.

The board must urgently convene a broad-based stakeholders' consultative meeting in order to allow for the people's participation in the rejuvenation of the public broadcaster. We caution the SABC board against rolling-back the good work done by the interim board and wish to warn Zuma against recapturing the public broadcaster. Hands off the SABC!

Biko Mutsaurwa writes in his capacity as Right2Know's communication rights organiser