SOS Deeply Concerned by the Outcomes of the Parliamentary Hearing on 16 August 2011

The ‘SOS: Support Public Broadcasting’ Coalition is deeply concerned about the state of the SABC’s finances  and turnaround strategy after attending the Communication Parliamentary Portfolio Committee hearing on Tuesday 16 August 2011.

National Treasury reported that the South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC) had not as yet implemented a cost-cutting and revenue-enhancement plan, a key component of its R1.47 billion loan guarantee. Further, National Treasury stated that the SABC would need close to R7 billion in public funding over the next three years and that if the broadcaster did not get this, there would be a projected shortfall of R3.7 billion in three years’ time.

A further worrying issue raised by National Treasury is that the savings that have been made to date by the SABC - to begin to pay back the government guaranteed loan - are being made primarily due to cut backs in programming. National Treasury stated that the SABC had cut back its programming budget by R600 million!

The SOS Coalition wishes to express its dismay that the SABC is following such a strategy. The SOS Coalition has on numerous occasions stated that the SABC’s turnaround strategy must ensure that excellent, quality public programming is placed at the centre of the SABC’s operations – and that cutbacks should in no way affect this.

These cut backs bring into question the SABC’s ability to meet its statutory Charter and license conditions. Further, we believe that this extremely short-sighted strategy places the SABC at long-term risk because content acquisition and production require long lead-in periods and if the SABC is not prioritising programming now this will have long term negative effects. Further, it could significantly damage the institution’s recovery plans.

Finally, the SOS Coalition is worried about the SABC’s statements around retrenchments and the need for further public funding to implement this. To date the coalition has not seen a clear plan in terms of these retrenchments. Further, the SABC has in no way assured us that these cuts will not affect programming outputs. Also, no clear plans seem to have been placed on the table in terms of the staffing requirements of the SABC during digital migration. In fact the unions have complained bitterly that overall they have not been consulted on the turnaround strategy.

The SOS Coalition calls on the SABC to ensure that its turnaround strategy places quality citizen-orientated programming at the centre of its operations. Further the coalition calls on the SABC to communicate how it will ensure that the staffing of the SABC will facilitate this.

The SABC crises are manifest, ongoing and becoming increasingly entrenched. They are also characterised by high levels of financial irregularities and mismanagement. The coalition calls on the Department of Communications urgently to launch its public broadcasting policy review process and for parliament to ensure that this happens promptly. We need a national review of the SABC, including of its funding, its corporate governance, its programming obligations and its overall role in our democracy.

As part of this review SOS reiterates its call for a new funding model that prioritises public funding. This is to ensure the SABC fulfils its public broadcasting mandate and further that universal access is ensured. However, first the SABC board and management need to demonstrate their commitment to efficient and effective governance.

The SOS Coalition represents a number of trade unions including Congress of the South African Trade Unions (COSATU), its affiliates Communications Workers Union (CWU) and Communications Workers Union South Africa (CWUSA), Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) and Media Workers Association of South Africa  (MWASA); 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), and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.

For more information contact:

Kate Skinner
SOS Coordinator
Mobile: 082 926 6404

Patrick Craven
Congress of South African Trade Unions
Mobile: 082 821 7456

Matankana Mathapo
Communications Workers Union
Mobile: 082 759 0900;

William Bird
Media Monitoring Africa
Mobile: 082 887 1370;

Rehad Desai
South African Screen Federation
Mobile: 083 997 9204;

Hannes du Buisson
Broadcasting Electronic Media and Allied Workers Union
Mobile: 082 920 8669.

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Date published: 
Friday, 19 August, 2011
SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition

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