DA backs Cosatu on SABC board challenge

The Democratic Alliance on Monday sided with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) on a possible court challenge to the composition of the new South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board.

“The subversion of Parliament’s powers by the executive and/or Luthuli House has become established African National Congress practice. What has happened with this board is not new,” said the opposition’s Dene Smuts. “Even if it does not succeed, a legal challenge will lay bare the erosion of the separation of powers which has been occurring systematically, and must for that reason be welcomed.”

Cosatu confirmed earlier it is considering legal action to have a new board appointed by the National Assembly on the grounds that the current body does not have a labour representative, as required by the Broadcasting Act.

Cosatu’s Patrick Craven said the union body still plans to seek legal advice on the matter, but believes that the SABC is giving poor coverage to labour issues.

He said between 30 minutes and an hour a day is dedicated to business news, but labour is usually only covered if there is a strike.

“He or she [a labour representative] can then talk to the management about the issues they should be covering,” he said.
These include the factors that contribute to a strike, working conditions, casualisation of labour, farmworkers, and health and safety concerns.

Shortcoming

The lack of a labour representative on the new SABC board is a shortcoming, the former chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications conceded.

“In terms of processes and procedures, the board is legal, but on that [the lack of a labour representative], there is a problem,” Godfrey Olifant said.

He said that although one labour representative was put forward during the selection process, that representative was eliminated during the voting process.

“Cosatu and the FXI [Freedom of Expression Institute] are correct by saying there is no labour representation. The law specifically provides for that,” he said.

Asked whether he thought the board was properly constituted without the labour representative, as stipulated by the Broadcasting Act, he said: “The board is legal. There is a shortcoming of [a] labour representative on the board. The courts will have to take a position.”

The FXI is also considering legal action along with Cosatu. The institute’s Jane Duncan said it had been advised previously that the decision by President Thabo Mbeki, who appointed the board, was “legally reviewable”.

The FXI believes that the board is not representative of South African society as a whole, as required by the Act, and has no journalists or working-class representatives.

Duncan also referred to allegations that ANC headquarters had “imposed” names on the party’s parliamentary caucus. The FXI also believes that six people on the new board are from the previous board, and that they have not sufficiently proved transparency and accountability.

The SABC has also reported unfairly on the battle for presidency of the ANC between Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, Duncan added.

The SABC board members are Independent Electoral Commission chief executive Pansy Tlakula, businesswoman Gloria Serobe, former presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo and businessman Peter Vundla. The deputy chairperson is lawyer Christina Qunta and the chairperson is Khanyisile Mkhonza.

Also appointed were Ashwin Trikamjee, Alison Gilwald, Andile Mbeki, Fadila Lagadien, Nadia Bulbulia and Desmond Golding.—Sapa

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