/ 10 October 2007

Call for SABC board to be reconsidered

Several labour and civil-society organisations have asked President Thabo Mbeki to hold back on appointing the new South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board and return the list of names approved by the National Assembly last month.

”We have asked him not to appoint them, and rather to send the list of names forwarded to him back to the National Assembly for reconsideration,” the organisations said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

A letter to Mbeki in this regard was sent from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Freedom of Expression Institute, Media Workers’ Association of South Africa, the National Council of Trade Unions, the South African Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the South African NGO Coalition and the Treatment Action Campaign.

The organisations argue in the letter that as representatives of the labour movement and civil society, they do not believe the list of nominees fulfils the requirement of the Broadcasting Act.

In terms of the Act, the board, when viewed collectively, should consist of ”persons who are suited to serve on the board by virtue of their qualifications, expertise and experience in the fields of broadcasting policy and technology, broadcasting regulation, media law, frequency planning, business practice and finance, marketing, journalism, entertainment and education and social and labour issues”.

There was a clear bias in the list towards business figures, with at least five of the nominees falling into this category.

In contrast, there were no names on the list who could be said to have qualifications, expertise and experience in labour and social issues; this was in spite of the fact that nominees from the labour movement were forwarded for consideration.

”Our second objection in this regard is that there is no one on the list who is a practising journalist, or has been a practising journalist recently.”

While there was a fair spread of people who had qualifications, expertise and experience in broadcasting policy and technology, broadcasting regulation and law, this did not amount to fulfilling the requirement.

In addition, the proposed board did not represent a broad cross-section of the population, as required by the Act.

There were clearly no working-class representatives, nor were there any representatives from the communities of interest — journalism and labour.

The organisations also objected to the inclusion of six members of the old board, all of whom had failed to demonstrate they were ”persons who are committed to fairness, freedom of expression, the right of the public to be informed and openness and accountability”, as required by the Act.

”We are especially concerned about the prospect of Christine Qunta being appointed chairperson of the board.

”In her existing capacity as deputy chairperson, she has presided over problems … and has defended the board’s actions publicly, including in her individual capacity in her interview with the portfolio committee on communications.

”We are also mindful of recent public controversies, where allegations have been made of a list being imposed on the … committee by the African National Congress, which — if it proves to be true — could amount to political manipulation of what was meant to be an open and transparent process.

”We believe that, when taken together, all these factors are sufficient grounds for a review of the existing list, as a pall has now been cast over the credibility of the entire process,” the organisations said. — Sapa