Controversial acting chief operations officer of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, appeared before Parliament on Friday – a day after making controversial comments about a need to license journalists.
One would expect him to be somewhat subdued considering the storm his comments stirred up, but Motsoeneng appeared oblivious to the wrath of media practitioners at his suggestion that journalists should be made to acquire a licence to practice.
In fact, it seems very little bothers Motsoeneng.
He appeared before Parliament as part of the SABC’s senior management team to present its strategic plan and discuss its budget with the oversight committees in communication, telecommunication and postal services.
The auditor general gave the SABC a disclaimer of opinion – the most adverse finding it can make.
Parliament also heard that the public broadcaster was not only losing advertisers, it was also losing viewers.
The SABC wants politicians to look at the issue around sports broadcasting rights, which it says is unsustainable. It also wants tariff increases on TV licence fees and raised concerns about the possible banning of alcohol advertising as this would negatively affect its coffers.
SABC bosses regaled Parliament of the accolades it has received for its coverage of the May 7 general elections, and how other countries in the Southern African Development Community approached them for tips.
Elephant in the room
There was, however, no mention of the elephant in the room – that Motsoeneng was found by public protector Thuli Madonsela to have fraudulently presented his qualifications. Madonsela also recommended that he be replaced at the public broadcaster.
Opposition parties came down hard on the SABC, specifically on its failure to act upon Madonsela’s findings. They called for Motsoeneng’s head to roll, and even suggested that he should not have been part of the delegation at all.
Economic Freedom Fighters parliamentarian Mbuyiseni Ndlozi was the first to interrogate the SABC’s senior managers.
“At the core of the crisis at the SABC, even according to the auditor general, is the leadership crisis and everybody is waiting to hear: has the SABC done anything with the public protector’s findings?” he asked.
“What kind of an institution goes on with a person, in as far as that report is concerned, who admitted to having lied about their qualifications for so long … You are not taking us seriously and you are not taking yourselves seriously,” Ndlozi added.
He criticised Motsoeneng for his licensing comments, saying he should be “the number one defender” of freedom of expression and of the media.
“When is he getting fired? We must be brought into confidence. When is Mr Hlaudi being fired?” asked Ndlozi.
DA parliamentarian Gavin Davis echoed Ndlozi’s sentiments, saying Madonsela recommended that a new chief operations officer be installed by May 18, conceding that there was a legal deadlock preventing this from happening.
“[But] what is preventing the SABC from suspending Hlaudi Motsoeneng? Surely he cannot continue at this organisation as it is currently?” asked Davis.
The negative sentiments and critique drew laughter from Motsoeneng, who sat on a front-row bench directly facing the parliamentarians who criticised him.
Motsoeneng’s confidence got a boost from ANC parliamentarians who sought to defend him.
“We are really angry with the SABC but our anger must not push us to a level whereby we utter irresponsible statements like ‘people must resign’.
“If people resign, the costs that we’ll incur are far higher than what we are losing now. It’s an irresponsible person who will call for that,” said ANC MP Dikeledi Tsotetsi.
Another ANC member, Mapule Mafolo, warned against playing petty politics.
“Don’t kick the man, kick the ball,” began Mafolo.
“Look where the problem is and come up with solutions. That’s our work here.
“We don’t just wake up in the morning and say people must resign as if they are working in our kitchens. Even a domestic worker today, you can’t just chase him or her away as you want. Let us not play petty politics. This is serious,” said Mafolo.
But Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, who is the political head in charge of the SABC, was more frank and seemed to want things to turn around.
Muthambi vowed the SABC would comply with Madonsela’s report.
“The public protector is a chapter nine institution, and whatever they have recommended has to be complied with. We cannot be seen as an entity that doesn’t comply with the public protector’s recommendations for remedial action,” she said.
With this comment, the smile was momentarily wiped off Motsoeneng’s face.