OPEN LETTER RE: SABC8 IMPLORES PARLIAMENT TO ACT ON BROADCASTERS GOVERNANCE CRISIS
At the start, we the SABC8, want to affirm the good work done in 2016 by parliament’s portfolio committee on communications, the ad hoc committee on the SABC and the interim board of the SABC.
However, it is with deep regret we write to you to register our alarm and deepest disappointment at the reckless abandon to which the public broadcaster has descended. We are extremely concerned at the governance crisis at the SABC. We believe that a recapture project of the public broadcaster is afoot and would like to endorse the open letter written to you by our fellow colleagues under the banner of BEMAWU (Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union).
We wish to reiterate their statement that we are prepared to strike over the issues underlined. We will not allow our short-lived, recently gained freedom of expression to be rolled back. It has been nine days since the term of the Interim Board has expired. However, there has been no political will to remedy the governance crisis at the broadcaster.
The President has delayed the ratification of the permanent board members duly advised by Parliament. In terms of the Broadcasting Act, Section 14 (1), concerning the executive committee, “the affairs of the corporation are administered by an executive committee consisting of the group chief executive and six other members appointed by the board.”
In other words the act makes absolutely no provision for the ministerial appointment of executive members; in fact the act frowns on such. We have been told today, by acting GCEO Nomsa Philiso that the Minister is currently preparing herself to extend the contracts of the current acting executives.
If the Minister proceeds with such plans she would be usurping the powers of parliament or a board that should have been appointed by parliament. We wish to inform the executive arm of the state that we do not belong to them but to the people of South Africa via their public representatives – the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa.
In terms of the Companies Act, the current state of affairs amounts to reckless trading as no one is accountable for the major decisions and transactions of the insolvent entity that we work for. It is clear that the SABC is unable to pay its debts as they become due in the normal course of business. The attendant risks and implications are dire and grave.
It would be reckless of us not to responsibly raise these concerns with Parliament as we do now by this correspondence. Regarding the reversed merger between the News Resources Department and Henley; while on the surface it may seem resolved, we still call for a forensic investigation into how this merger came about in the first place and a full account of the moneys transferred and spent, particularly the millions transferred from the news division to the bankrupt Henley technical department.
The Combating and Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act stipulates that we have an obligation to report such matters. Further, we have seen how when corruption is allowed to run rampant, the quality of news and governance decline. We note, with concern, a reported meeting held at Luthuli House, wherein we believe it was said that the SABC news division is “the only propaganda tool left to the African National Congress”; and that the loss of this “tool” would be resisted by the governing party.
In addition, we find that the meeting held by our Acting-GE of news with the head of the president’s private office and spokesperson, Dr. Bongani Ngqulunga, to be injudicious and we call on our head to exercise more circumspection in the future and to protect the newsroom from perceptions of bias.
We also call on him to make the minutes of that meeting public. Editorial independence must not only be practiced, like justice, it must be seen to be done. We also raise concern that the editorial review process has been halted by the absence of the appropriate governance structures. ICASA has ruled that the SABC revert to the editorial policy of 2004. In this editorial policy the official mandated person to preside over the editorial process is the Group Chief Executive.
We note with concern that the acting Chief Operating Officer has installed herself at the apex of this process, thus continuing with the practices of Hlaudi Motsoeneng under whom she gladly served. This is why we call on the presidency to ratify the board members so that we can institute the measurers to ensure editorial independence, such as the Editorial Forum, as envisaged in the Broadcasting Act, clause 13 (b) which calls on board members to be committed to fairness and freedom of expression and the right of the public to be informed.
It has been eight months since the release of the final report of the SABC inquiry’s ad hoc committee which recommended, among others, that the enforcers of unlawful instructions by Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his regime be held accountable. Instead, there appears to be efforts to launder their conduct and reinstate them as credible journalists. This is just a cosmetic exercise designed to ensure that they remain long enough to cover up the corrupt excesses and decisions of the past. Given the acting head of news’ reluctance to correct the wrongs of the past, our faith in his leadership is gravely shaken.
We call upon parliament to hold the executive to account and bring the corporation in line with the governance principles outlined in the Broadcasting Act. We cannot proceed in this fashion for much longer.
Nonkululeko Zonke Smith (convenor of SABC 101- News Technical Staff)
Issued by the SABC 8, 9 October 2017