The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition (SOS) is very concerned at the abrupt cancellation of the public hearings on the SABC Bill in Parliament. The Coalition emphasises the importance of a transparent legislative process that serves the public interest. 

SOS made a joint submission with Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and the South African National Editor’s Forum (SANEF) to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies (PPCCDT) in January, foregrounding problematic provisions in the Bill and calling for its withdrawal. 

A total of 17 submissions were received by Parliament, along with three letters of support. Many of these highlighted the same, and more, problematic aspects of the Bill, including the SABC itself, with a few echoing our call for a withdrawal; including the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and etv.

The Committee had scheduled public hearings on the SABC Bill for the 22nd and 23rd of February, which were postponed last minute on the 20th of February while flights and accommodation had already been secured by SOS and other organisations.  SOS, MMA, and SANEF jointly wrote to the Committee to voice its concerns about this postponement.

The Committee responded saying “given all the public submissions, the Committee had to reconsider the position as presented by the Sector and decided to consult our legal service to provide some advice on whether the SABC Bill will still be viable to be processed in its current form given some serious concerns on the current draft. It was on this basis that the Committee saw it prudent to postpone the planned public hearings until there had been a legal opinion on whether the Committee could process the Bill further.”  The Committee further apologised for the inconvenience caused and disputed our claim that the postponement is linked to the election date. 

The postponement becomes a big concern when read in conjunction with the updated programme released by the Committee that still contains “discussion and finalisation of the SABC Bill” on the 20th of March. Even though the Chairperson of the Committee attributed the error to the secretarial team, we request that it is updated accordingly to exclude finalisation. 

If the SABC Bill is withdrawn based on written submissions and calls for its rejection, there is no need for public hearings. However, if the Bill is processed as suggested by the Committee’s updated programme, oral hearings must occur before moving to finalisation.

“Public participation is essential for a democratic society as it ensures that the voices and perspectives of diverse groups are heard and considered. Should the legal advice propose that the Bill be deferred to the next Parliament administration, public hearings would need to be a priority for Parliament to make an informed decision and withdraw the SABC Bill. It remains unclear when this legal advice will be tabled before the Committee.” said SOS’s National Coordinator, Uyanda Siyotula.

SOS considers the Bill fatally flawed for several reasons. Firstly, it is being hurried through Parliament in a policy vacuum. The Draft White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Media Services and Online Content Safety is its foundational policy but has not yet been finalised. This lack of an established policy framework raises concerns about the hasty advancement of the Bill. 

Secondly, the Bill fails to address a crucial aspect concerning the public broadcaster – its funding model. Instead of presenting a concrete funding model, the SABC Bill merely mentions the development of a funding model framework within three years after its enactment. This falls short of providing a sustainable funding model given that the SABC needs immediate financial intervention.

The issue of editorial independence at the SABC has taken a step back as the proposed Bill states that the Editor-in-Chief of the SABC will no longer be the Executive responsible for News and Current Affairs. Instead, the Editor-in-Chief will be the CEO. This merging of editorial and management responsibilities is a significant concern, as it goes against the principles of editorial independence.

This situation is reminiscent of the time when Hlaudi Motsoeneng was in charge at the SABC. During his tenure, editorial decisions were often made by the CEO, leading to unlawful decisions and censoring news content that related to protests over lack of service delivery during the 2016 local government elections. This undermining of editorial independence was heavily criticized by organisations like us who were at the forefront of the fight against Hlaudi.

Another issue is the introduction of a separate subsidiary commercial company. This arrangement raises questions about the SABC’s independence since the Bill grants the Minister veto powers over the appointment of members of the commercial board. This situation directly contradicts Judge Matojane’s ruling in the case of SOS and Others v the SABC and Others, where the High Court emphasized the importance of protecting the SABC’s independence in order to safeguard our democracy.

SOS believes that the SABC Bill will take our public broadcaster backwards, among many other issues. Hence, SOS is spearheading a campaign advocating for the withdrawal of the SABC Bill, which has garnered support from 16 external organizations, in addition to those within the Coalition and those that have already called for its withdrawal in submissions to Parliament.

This level of support reflects a broad base of opposition to the Bill. These organizations are sending a clear message to policymakers that there is significant opposition to the Bill and that it needs to be withdrawn.

SOS will continue to call on SABC’s oversight structure to do a diligent job for the benefit of the public broadcaster and the people of South Africa. We hope that the calls for the withdrawal of the Bill are heard by the PPCCDT and if not, that due democratic processes are followed if the Bill is indeed to be proceeded with, including oral hearings. 

For more information, please contact: Uyanda Siyotula 

SOS National Coordinator

060 691 2462

The following external organisations have endorsed this statement and the call for the withdrawal of the SABC Bill:

International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG)

People’s Media Consortium (PMC)

Bench Marks Foundation

Defend Our Democracy

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA)

Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI)


Youth Must Rise

Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

All Nations Community Centre

My Vote Counts

Dear South Africa 

The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation


Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS)

The following internal organisations have endorsed this statement and the call for the withdrawal of the SABC Bill:

South African Screen Federation (SASFED)

Campaign for Free Expression (CFE)

Workers World Media Productions (WWMP)

Cape Town TV

Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)

South African National Editors Forum (SANEF)

Media Monitoring Africa) (MMA)

Right2Know Campaign

Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ)

Independent Producers Organisation (IPO)