Fixing the public broadcaster

The SABC was one of the liberation movement’s first transformation projects. Immediately after 1994 there was a sense of hope and excitement. Sadly, however, since then there have been numerous crises, intensifying from 2007 onwards.
Since 2007 there have been three boards and five CEOs at the SABC.

During the 2008/2009 financial year alone the SABC lost close to R-billion through the mismanagement of funds. The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition originally the ‘Save our SABC’ Campaign—made up of trade unions, NGOs, CBOs and film makers was set up in the midst of this turmoil to give civil society a voice.

The coalition played a key role in ensuring that the public was involved in the appointment of the 2010 board. Further, SOS has commented on a series of bills and discussion documents drafted by Parliament and the government to resolve the crises.

The Coalition has argued that unfortunately these documents have been rushed and piecemeal. It believes what is needed is for government to review the now outdated Broadcasting White Paper (1998) and to bring out new comprehensive broadcasting legislation dealing with the SABC’s deep rooted funding and governance problems.

To safeguard the broadcasters independence SOS has called for the SABC to be turned into a constitutionally protected Chapter 9 institution (such as the public protector). Further, the coalition has commented on the SABC’s commercial funding model.

At present the SABC gets approximately 80% funding from advertising, 18% from the license fee and 2% from government. This restricts the SABC’s ability to fulfil its public service mandate to deliver quality public programming to all South Africans in all 11 official languages.

The coalition has called for the SABC to receive a greater percentage of public funding to fulfil its public mandate but has simultaneously insisted the SABC’s independence is safeguarded. Further, the coalition has made a number of proposals in terms of the roles of the board, management and the SABC’s oversight structures (including Parliament and Icasa) to ensure the institution is better managed.

Finally, SOS has put forward a number of proposals on ways to ensure the SABC is more accountable to its audiences new public charter, audience committees and national and provincial stakeholder committees. The coalition won its demand for a comprehensive policy review process in November 2010.

The minister of communications announced that it was withdrawing the controversial Public Service Broadcasting Bill calling for a 1% tax on personal income. The coalition is now lobbying hard to ensure this review process is launched without delay and with major public participation. This includes new legal and governance structures and a new funding model for the SABC.

Kate Skinner is co-ordinator of SOS

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