'SABC funding model needs urgent attention'

The South African Broadcasting Corporation is out of the woods after a two-year cash crisis, but a funding model for the public broadcaster deserves urgent attention from the government, acting group CEO Phil Molefe said on Wednesday.

“The funding model remains a critical question and it is something that must be concluded by the government and indeed the ruling party and other structures,” Molefe told a select parliamentary committee on labour and public enterprises.

He said the SABC was in the unusual situation that only 20% of its funding came from the public purse and the rest from commercial contracts.

“Yet, the SABC is still expected to deliver a public service. It is dichotomous. It is contradictory ...
You need a very stable funding base.”

The issue was raised last month when the SABC and Treasury officials told Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications that the broadcaster needed R6-billion from the government over the next three years.

ANC MPs said their party’s 2007 resolution for full public funding for the SABC needed to be revisited, but opposition MPs baulked at the latest demand from the company.

They said the SABC had not yet shown it had implemented the requirements of its R1bn government guarantee, which it was given in 2009 to pay off its debt.

Cutting overheads
These included cutting down on overheads, especially its top-heavy management, increasing advertising sales and sponsorship opportunities, and increasing collection of licensing fees.

Molefe, the company’s head of news, said on Wednesday that the SABC’s turnaround strategy, implemented last year, was beginning to show results. Management had put in place systems to detect any risk to its financial stability at an early stage.

“We are beginning to see the fruits of the turnaround strategy.”

Its last financial results were better than expected, he said. This was partly because it had managed to recover some R140m from debtors which had appeared irredeemably lost.

Molefe said one the reasons why senior posts, including that in which he was acting, had not been filled at the SABC, was that the company was trying to keep management lean.

“We want to have few chiefs but many Indians instead of vice versa.”

He bristled at questions from MPs about the SABC’s role in job creation and suggestions that it relied too heavily on independent contractors.

He said the company could not, for example, afford to employ studio technicians who were needed for three hours a day, on a full-time basis.

“Imagine if the SABC needed to employ all of these people full-time. It will make the financial crisis of the last two years look like a Sunday school picnic.”—Sapa

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