20 October 2020
The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition notes that the SABC and the SABC Unions, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) as well as an ad hoc SABC’s staff formation, the Editorial Forum, were given an opportunity to deliver oral presentations to the Portfolio Committee on Communications in Parliament today.
We note that while the purpose was to provide further information to the PPCC on various matters including the S189 Retrenchments process, which remains an issue of contention between the affected parties. The Coalition would like to remind all who are concerned that Parliament is the SABC’s overall oversight structure through which accountability to the public is exercised. Parliament is not a trade union, editorial policy enforcer or a mediator that would have an operational role in these processes.
We also would like to reiterate that as a civil society organisation and external stakeholder of the SABC, working in the Public Broadcasting landscape, SOS itself has no role in the ongoing S189 process at the SABC. Therefore, CWU’s General Secretary, Aubrey Tshabalala’s characterisation of SOS as an organisation seeking to play a role in the affairs of the SABC Board and the SABC Executives is unwarranted and frankly, malicious.
Lest we forget, it was SOS, MMA and others who engaged in litigation to bring test cases before the court to obtain rulings on appointments and dismissals of SABC executives at a time when clarity and good corporate governance was required. The ruling by Judge Matojane, which clearly held that interference in the operational affairs of the SABC is unlawful (SOS Coalition and others v SABC and Others, 2017 at paragraphs  and ) and paragraph  of the judgment. This judgement continues to ensure that the SABC and all future SABC Boards would be protected from political and commercial interference.
The facts of the matter are that our public broadcaster needs to make serious and definitive changes in order to ensure its survival past this moment. But the reality is that media business models are fractured (made worse by Covid-19) and there has been very little commitment and action from the Government to assist the public broadcaster to find sustainable solutions to ongoing problems such as its unfunded public mandate.
The SABC desperately needs to adapt and shift and reorganize in order to meet the demands of a digital future as audiences shift away from traditional linear broadcasting. In line with this new reality, there is clearly a need for restructuring in order to ensure that the broadcaster has a fit-for-purpose staff complement. Restructuring, where possible, will allow the SABC to retain, retrain and to utilise the best skills it has available while having the least impact on job losses. Therefore, where at all possible, remaining content staff must also be given options to upskilling and/or re-skilling.
We are keenly aware that any SABC retrenchments will exacerbate unemployment in the media sector which has already been hit hard by the mass retrenchments and ongoing salary reductions across the country for the past decade
The Coalition therefore encourages all interested parties or affected stakeholders (and these include Parliament, the Ministry etc) who may feel that the conduct of the SABC Board or management or any of the processes that have been initiated are unlawful in any way, then such party or parties have an obligation approach the courts just as we did regarding the SABC and Multichoice Archive Deal and Ministerial interference in executive appointments at the SABC.
We have faith that the CCMA and the Labour Court have the skills and expertise to secure fairness in this process so that retrenchments are done rationally, reasonably and in accordance with all relevant prescripts of the Labour Relations Act’s section 189.
SOS Coalition will continue to campaign for a sustainable SABC and ensure that its content is as per its public interest mandate, to support “democracy, development of society, gender equality, nation building, provision of education and strengthening the spiritual and moral fibre of society” and to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of South Africa”. Broadcasting Act, 1999