Attention: SABC deficit disorder

The SABC is R700-million in the red and plans to approach Parliament to seek permission to increase licence fees, the corporation’s chief financial officer, Robin Nicholson, told trade unionists this week.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago denied a R700-millon figure but said: “We are not prepared to engage further on this matter.” Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri would have to decide on any licence increase application, Kganyago said
Nicholson, who was taken to task by Parliament earlier this month for the financial crisis at the public broadcaster, said at the time that it was R500-million in the red.

The new figure emerged at a meeting on Wednesday between Nicholson and officials of the Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers’ Union, including its president, Hannes du Buisson.

“The SABC is currently in a R700-million deficit. Immediate plans to rectify the situation were discussed and the SABC will cease recruitment unless it is absolutely necessary to fill a position. The SABC will also make a recommendation to Parliament to increase TV licence fees,” Du Buisson noted in a memo seen by the Mail & Guardian.

On Thursday he confirmed to the M&G that at the meeting—which he attended—Nicholson said the SABC was R700-million in the red.

He said that corporation’s chief financial officer indicated that advertising revenue, which normally contributes about 85% of revenue, “was drastically down”.

According to the memo, Nicholson said the corporation has cut freelance budgets to weather the storm, but that in the short term there would be no staff retrenchments. “He said we have to start to be responsible and ... take difficult decisions to keep the SABC alive,” the memo notes.

However, Du Buisson later warned union members that he “cannot see the SABC surviving with its current head count and the deficit ... if the government tells them [SABC management] to cut heads, they will have to”.

According to the memo, Nicholson said the SABC’s management and board would have to be “managed”.

Du Buisson told the M&G on Thursday he believed the corporation’s management, and especially its board, bore most of the blame for the mess.

He said board members lacked competence and scheduled unnecessary board meetings for personal gain. It also undertook unnecessary litigation against managers, including former chief executive Dali Mpofu.

Mpofu has reportedly rejected a R7-million settlement offer after he indicated that he would continue legal action against the SABC over his January dismissal.

Asked whether advertising revenues were down, Kganyago referred the M&G to the measurement index Adex.

He said retrenchments could not be ruled out as a future possibility.

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