The civil society “Save our SABC” (SOS) campaign welcomes progress on the SABC crisis. The public broadcaster is debilitated by allegations and counter-allegations between the Board and management. The Group Chief Executive Officer and the Head of News of the corporation remain suspended. Given this stand-off – and its severe consequences for the public broadcaster – some urgent progress is required. In this context the civil society coalition “Save our SABC” appreciates the fact that the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications is seeking to address problems, primarily through the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, 2008.
The Coalition acknowledges the serious gaps within our present broadcasting framework and the Broadcasting Act of 1999 – and in particular the gaps surrounding the removal of board members. The Coalition agrees with the clauses introduced to remove individual board members. These clauses have been adopted from the clauses used to remove board members from Chapter Nine institutions, whose independence is constitutionally safeguarded.
However, there are a few issues in the Amendment Bill that still need to be addressed.
First, given the fact that our present crisis was caused by a flawed appointment process, it would have been preferable for the Amendment Bill to have clarified the process for future appointments.
Second, while the Coalition accepts that there may be exceptional circumstance when the entire Board needs to be removed, we are concerned that this could have serious consequences for the SABC’s independence. The criteria and process for the removal of the entire board, or individual members, must therefore be carefully considered and must ensure that the principles of administrative justice are adhered to. The Amendment Bill calls for the National Assembly to recommend the dissolution of the Board if it fails to discharge its fiduciary duties and fails to adhere to its Charter. To undertake an investigation upon which to make such a recommendation however would require a Parliament that is much better resourced than it is currently. This needs to be carefully considered. Further, any Parliamentary recommendations must be seen to be based on objective findings of incapacity of the Board to execute its functions, so that there can be no allegations of improper political interference.
Further, the Broadcasting Act gives the regulator - the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) - the responsibility to monitor and enforce compliance with the SABC Charter. This clause has not been changed in the Amendment Bill, and therefore clarity needs to be sought on the relationship between ICASA and Parliament. As the Charter deals with a range of issues including editorial requirements for public broadcasting, Parliament needs to be informed of any findings by ICASA of non-compliance. Certainly, if ICASA were to make findings of serious breaches of the Code, Parliament should then be empowered to take action against the Board based on such findings.
Third, in terms of the interim board proposals the Coalition is concerned that no criteria are provided for the selection of the five non-executive members to the Board. Further, although a termination date for the interim board is now included (an improvement on the previous draft Bill) no clauses have been included specifically stipulating that the interim board should not sit over an election.
Finally, the Coalition wants to reiterate its appreciation that progress has been made and that key gaps in the legislation have been dealt with. However, we would like to reinforce the argument we made at the recent Parliamentary hearings: it would be preferable not to deal with the amendments to the Broadcasting Act in a piecemeal fashion. What is needed is a complete legislative overhaul. A Green Paper/ White Paper process needs to be launched leading to the promulgation of a comprehensive, effective SABC Act that serves the public interest. This will ultimately be a victory for us all.
For more information please contact:
- Campaign Co-ordinator – Kate Skinner (082) 926-6404
- Cosatu spokesperson – Patrick Craven (082) 821-7456
- Media Monitoring Project Director – William Bird (082) 887-1370