Parliament Must Not Amend the Broadcasting Act

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Parliament Must Not Amend the Broadcasting Act

Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications
Mr. Sikhumbuzo Eric Kholwane

17 June 2013

Dear Mr Kholwane,

Amendments to the Broadcasting Act

It has come to the attention of the SOS Coalition that the Portfolio Committee on Communications has been discussing making an amendment to the Broadcasting Act of 1999 to enable it to extend the term of the Interim Board appointed in March 2013. The only possible reason for this is because it has failed, thus far, in discharging its core responsibilities of carrying out the process for the appointment of a permanent board.

Parliament is responsible for the oversight of the SABC’s corporate governance and must take ultimate responsibility for ensuring that it operates efficiently, effectively and in line with the Broadcasting and other related Acts. Further, together with the Presidency, Parliament plays a key role in the appointment of Board members. Parliament facilitates and oversees the nomination, short-listing and recommendation of candidates to the President who makes the final appointments.

In terms of s 15A (3)(b) of the Broadcasting amendment Act of 2009, the Interim Board may not serve for a period exceeding six months. Indeed, the spirit in which this provision was enacted in 2009 was to enable Parliament, under extraordinary circumstances, to appoint a “caretaker Board” for a limited period while it seeks to appoint a permanent Board and restore stability in the public broadcaster.

This s15A requirement was acknowledged by the Committee upon the dissolution of the permanent Board in March, 2013. It was further acknowledged and undertaken by the Committee to ensure that the nomination and appointment of a permanent Board who would bring the SABC out from crisis is prioritised and completed before the Interim board’s term of service came to an end.

Amidst the recurrent crises in leadership in the SABC, the Committee has consistently failed to discharge its fiduciary duty and provide decisive direction and long-term and effective leadership in this, a critical institution of our democracy our public broadcaster. Not least of which in the singularly important governance institution of the SABC – its Board. Two and a half months after the appointment of the Interim Board, the nominations process for the appointment of a permanent Board has still not been initiated. Instead, far from initiating the process on an urgent basis and prioritising it in its programme, the Committee has proposed the introduction of a far-reaching amendment to the Broadcasting Act. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

At every key point in the five-year scramble to save our SABC, the SOS Coalition has repeatedly called on Parliament to exercise effective and decisive leadership, particularly with respect to the governance of the public broadcaster. At each of those points, Parliament has repeatedly failed to provide the necessary leadership and has, with this latest proposal, highlighted its inability to carry out some of its core functions.

Some of the recent instances where Parliament failed to act include when:

• it was called on to resolve the irregular and unilateral appointment of the Head of News and Current Affairs, Phil Molefe, by then Chairperson, Dr Ben Ngubane, resulting in a destructive stand-off between Ngubane and members of the Board and the resignation of four Board members, including the Deputy Chairperson;
• it was called on to resolve the allegations of executive interference in Board affairs by then Communications Minster, Siphiwe Nyanda, contributing to the mass-exodus from the Board in 2010; and
• it was called on to undertake an enquiry into the very public breakdown in the relationship between Board members in 2012, ultimately resulting in the mass-exodus which precipitated the second dissolution of the SABC Board in four years.

Parliament must take responsibility for its not insignificant part in the breakdown of the SABC Board and remedy the systemic problems therein urgently, effectively and lawfully without the introduction of an amendment to the Broadcasting Act.

We believe there is still enough time for a thorough and rigorous appointment process to be completed which will see a permanent SABC Board appointed before the Interim Board’s term expires. SOS will actively support the process for the appointment of a new permanent board and assist in any way possible in expediting the process. Parliament must act now. To not do this would be a further abrogation of the Committee’s fiduciary duty to the SABC and all South Africans.

The SOS Coalition, therefore, calls on the Committee to:

• immediately open nominations for and prioritise the appointment of a permanent SABC Board;
• abandon any intention to amend s15A or any other part of the Broadcasting Act outside of the ongoing ICT policy review process; and
• provide effective and decisive oversight and leadership that will ensure long-term and sustainable stability over our public broadcaster.

The SOS Coalition represents a broad spectrum of civil society stakeholders committed to the broadcasting of quality, diverse, citizen-orientated public-interest programming aligned to the goals of the SA Constitution. The Coalition includes a number of trade union federations including COSATU and FEDUSA, a number of independent unions including BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.

Yours sincerely,
Carol Mohlala

Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi
Campaign Organiser
On behalf of the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition.