The SOS Coalition is taken aback by the absence of an SABC Board and warns of potential destabilization. The Board’s term of office ended on the 15th of October 2022 and the Portfolio Committee has failed to recommend candidates for appointment by the President in accordance with the express requirements of the Broadcasting Act, 1999.
The Board plays a crucial role in providing the SABC with strategic leadership in the public interest. As provided for in the Broadcasting Act of 1999, the “Board controls the affairs of the Corporation and must protect matters referred to in section 6 (2) of the Act”. Ultimately, the Board ensures that the SABC complies with its Charter, which in-turn ensures the broadcaster’s independence and that the needs and interests of its diverse audience are met, as per its mandate of deepening democracy.
The absence of a Board might not have an immediate impact but subsequent repercussions will manifest in due course. The Board is the accounting authority of the Corporation, executives currently have no accounting body in place to oversee the implementation of agreed-upon resolutions and decisions that need Board approval are on hold. The Board is accountable to Parliament for the affairs and running of the SABC.
The SABC’s current financial standing poses as a threat to its long term existence. The Auditor General indicated in her 2021/22 annual report that the R201 million loss in this financial year may cast significant doubt on the broadcaster’s ability to continue operating. As such, the incoming Board’s primary focus should be to devise policies and strategies that seek to remedy the financial downturn at the SABC. The delay in appointing a Board stalls the implementation of turnaround strategies that would benefit the broadcaster.
Without a Board, whose role, according to section 5(a), includes updating policies to “ensure compliance with the Authority’s Code of Conduct as prescribed and with the Corporation’s licence conditions and with the objectives contained in the Act”- policy decisions cannot be made. Policy amendments that would otherwise carry a financial benefit for the organisation have been halted. The range of policies that the Board oversees include the news editorial policy; programming policy; local content policy; educational policy; universal service and access policy; language policy; and religious policy.
It is important to note that the decisions and resolutions taken by the current Board can only be overturned by an incoming Board. Hence, SOS opposes the suggestion by the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communication, Boyce Maneli, that the three executive directors, CEO, CFO and COO act on behalf of the Board until a full Board has been appointed.
This is not appropriate as these three directors do not constitute a quorum. As set out in section 13 (10) of the Act, “Nine members of the Board, which must include the chairperson or the deputy chairperson, will constitute a quorum at any meeting of the Board”, clearly envisaging that six non-executive members must be in place for the Board to operate and take legally binding decision.
This proposal presents multifaceted problems:
SOS calls for the SABC Board appointments to be expedited to prevent potential destabilisation. We reiterate our call for the Board to be made up of members of the best possible calibre and skillset, committed to ensuring progressive stabilization by continuing and improving the turn-around strategy initiated by the outgoing Board.
SOS also calls on the Committee to be cognisant of its important role in supporting the SABC and to refrain from taking decisions that in breach of the Act, and that undermine due processes. Instead, it ought to improve its internal processes to provide adequate oversight to broadcaster and to ensure that critically-important Parliamentary processes, such as Board recommendations, are conducted timeously to avoid this situation arising in future.