SABC overseas trips must be approved by communications minister, says broadcaster

On Tuesday, a notice surfaced saying staff at the SABC are no longer allowed to take international business trips unless they have been approved by Communications Minister Faith Muthambi. The SABC and the communications department have responded, saying the letter was sent to all enterprises under the department and that the decision would serve as a cost-cutting measure.

Curbing wasteful expenditure

“The ministry of communications has written to all entities that fall within the communications portfolio, requesting them to adhere to the cost containment measures adopted by government relating to overseas trips,” said the department’s spokesperson, Misha Molakeng.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago told the Mail & Guardian the SABC viewed the communication department’s missive as an implementation of President’s Jacob Zuma’s announcement to curb wasteful expenditure in his State of the Nation Address in February 2016.

“I would like to announce some measures this evening. Overseas trips will be curtailed and those requesting permission will have to motivate strongly and prove the benefit to the country,” Zuma said at the time.

“The sizes of delegations will be greatly reduced and standardised. Further restrictions on conferences, catering, entertainment and social functions will be instituted,” he added.

Kganyago said there was nothing new about the notice that surfaced, because it has been public knowledge for some time. He added that the full letter had not been released to the public and the portion of the notice that was released lacked the context to illustrate that it was a cost-cutting measure.

“I believe that someone is maliciously intending to put the SABC and the minister into disrepute,” Kganyago said.

The notice was sent out electronically and said that requests for international trips must be sent to Muthambi with a motivation for the trip, how the trip will benefit government and the country, the financial implications and the officials in the delegation and their roles. According to the notice, requests must be sent through the SABC’s chief financial officer.

“Please be advised that the SABC is now required to submit formal requests for all international trips to the minister for approval effective immediately,” a notice at the SABC said.

Once a staffer has returned from their trip, they are also required to submit a formal report on their trip to the minister within seven days. The communications department say this is normal and being asked of all entities in their portfolio to ensure money is managed properly.

Censorship

The notice comes after several incidents of controversy at the SABC. In July eight staff members, including prominent senior journalists, were fired from the SABC for speaking out against the broadcaster’s policies, which included a decision not to air footage of violent protests. Seven staff members were reinstated but one, a freelancer, has remained booted from the organisation.

The SABC’s chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, has been at the centre of the storm for his reported control within the corporation and has defended the SABC’s policy despite widespread challenges against it. Earlier in July, the ANC lambasted the public broadcaster for censorship, saying that it lacked adequate leadership.

“We are not in support of any censorship. We are not in support of the public broadcaster coming to the public domain and saying ‘this is what you can watch, this is what you can’t watch’,” said Jackson Mthembu, ANC chief whip and chair of the party’s subcommittee on communications.

Muthambi has however stood by the SABC’s policy to not broadcast images of violent protests, saying that it “will go a long way to discourage attention-seeking anarchists”. The minister was reportedly summoned to Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg, but failed to show up. The party said, however, that it didn’t view Muthambi’s absence as defiance.

The minister has had a reportedly good friendship with Motsoeneng and has ignored previous missives sent by the ANC’s subcommittee on communications on issues such as digital migration.

Through much of the SABC’s controversies this year, Muthambi has remained quiet with the exception of her public support for the editorial decision on violent protests.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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