Communications Minister Roy Padayachie tells the Mail & Guardian he was trying to give the SABC board a free hand.
Why did you intervene in changing the article of association to facilitate the appointment of the chief executive?
The most critical amendment was in response to the board, allowing it to engage any one of the employees in the position of group chief executive and we made it such that, for any acting position, the [incumbent] can be drawn from any employee in the SABC. The only substantive change is in regard to group chief executive because there is already a precedent regarding the other two executives that they are drawn from other staff members.
This has been interpreted by some as an attempt to pave the way for Phil Molefe to take over as the public broadcaster’s acting chief executive?
In a sense it was a way to enable the board to have a greater freedom and a wider pool of candidates to choose from to put in an acting position. Phil just happened to be the person that the board nominated. They could have chosen anyone else. I had nothing to do with that choice.
Didn’t you essentially rob the board of its role by intervening?
Not at all. In fact, the intervention to amend the articles of association will allow the board to play its role with complete freedom. The board became a prisoner to one person [Robin Nicholson], whose contract [as group chief financial officer] was expiring on June 30 and who had refused to sign the contract offered to him by the board until the very last minute. I am told that it [the board] might have engaged in discussion with him on the question of offering him a six-month contract. But he resisted signing because he wanted better terms. He wanted the board to offer him a 12-month contract on the basis that if the new chief executive did not require him in one or two months, he would have to get a full 12-months’ pay.
The SABC’s articles of association surely should be public, and changed only with Parliament involvement. Shouldn’t they?
It’s a matter of the shareholder. There is no public involvement. There is no parliamentary involvement.
Do you think Phil Molefe is conflicted in wearing both editorial and executive hats?
I don’t see how he can be conflicted because I am told he has appointed somebody as head of news.
Did the ANC discuss this issue and what was the conclusion of that discussion?
That you must discuss with the ANC.
Why is Nicholson not the right man for the job?
That would be difficult to express an opinion on. If I had to express my own view, it would not be correct. But I can tell you that Nicholson, as group chief executive, was responsible for driving the turnaround strategy and the board thinks it is making progress. But the reports I get from the special monitoring committee established between the treasury and the department of communications has a different view about the matter. As the minister, I have to listen to my experts on the subject and decide on the kind of intervention I need to make on the matter.
So the board wanted Nicholson to continue doing what he was doing with regard to the turnaround strategy, but the ANC and government wanted somebody else?
That view has never been expressed to the minister.
What is your response to claims that you prefer Joe Mjwara to Tau Morwe [who is said to enjoy support from some members of the board] for the position of chief executive?
[Laughs] On that also I think the media knows more than the minister because the board has not informed me about its choices and decisions. I have learned everything I have learned through informal contacts.
Do you have your own preference?
The board has to have a selection process. The minister has got nothing to do with the selection process. The minister has the statutory right to accept or reject recommendations from the board. If the minister is not satisfied, he is not going to be able to take the name of the candidate to Cabinet.
The board chooses the candidate based on the information that the person has supplied to it. When it comes to the minister, the minister has access to information and sources which are wider than the board. For example, we might get intelligence reports which tell us that you can’t put such and such a person in a particular position because there are certain question marks about security. The board is not privy to that, the minister is. The minister may have a legitimate reason to say to the board: “You must take this matter back.” In this particular case, the matter is still open because I can consider the matter only once I have been informed about it. That’s when I will make my position known. Right now, I can’t have preferences.
What do you understand to be the scope of your work in relation to the SABC?
As a shareholder, you are the minister responsible for that company — for the operation of the public broadcaster. You have to work with what is delivered to you in Parliament.
Do you sometimes overstep this?
I can’t speak about other ministers, but, with me, I don’t think so. The manner that I have engaged with the board, I always make sure there is a line that is understood between me and them.
You do get consulted from time to time as the minister, despite the fact that boards are independent. Sometimes they will like to know what the minister feels. They will consult you, but this takes place in the open. For example, when the board has taken a decision to retrench staff and that is likely to have a social impact. As a shareholder you have to be satisfied.
Do Jimi Matthews [the head of TV news] and Mike Siluma [the head of radio news and acting head of news] have your full support in operating with complete editorial independence?
There is one thing the minister does not do and that’s interfere or engage on the editorial independence of the public broadcaster. The minister believes that the public broadcaster is there to serve the interests of the public. It is not an expression of one political party. It has to be balanced in the way it conveys the messages of the political system. It has the responsibility to play a role in the national cohesion of the people. It is not a mouthpiece of the government.
What is your view on the proposal for a media appeals tribunal?
If you are asking the minister as an ANC member, the minister will tell you he supports the resolution of the [ANC] national congress. It’s a decision of the ANC conference, which we all respect. But wearing my ministerial hat I think it’s a very necessary debate in the country. We do need to find the balance between self-regulation that does not meet and respect the dignity of individuals as opposed to outright state regulation that has no respect for the freedom of the press.