SOS is concerned that Department of Communications is reneging on hard fought for broadcasting policy review.
The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition has noted the Department of Communications Strategic Plan for 2011- 2014. Although the Coalition welcomes the Department’s energy and commitment to building its own capacity and to strengthening the organisations it oversees, including the SABC, it is concerned that the latter’s critical and public commitment to reviewing the Broadcasting White Paper, 1998 has fallen from the agenda.
The Department is now promising to “introduce the Public Service Broadcasting Bill” to Parliament. No mention is made of a policy review process. The Department of Communications has committed itself to undertaking a policy review process including the fulfilment of very specific tasks. In a statement released on 19 November 2011 the Minister of Communications stated:
“I have decided to withdraw the current Draft Public Service Broadcasting Bill. A process will be instituted to ensure that further work, including the following tasks, is completed:
– A review of the White Paper on Broadcasting, 1998 including an environmental scan of the broadcasting legislation and regulations in place to ensure policy and legislative alignment and consistency;
– A review of research done of funding options for the SABC and community media; and
– An economic modeling exercise is undertaken in the sector to begin to look at SABC and community media costs and projected costs of digital migration in the sector.”
The Coalition is concerned that these commitments are not included or upheld in the Department’s plan and there is rather only mention of introducing the Public Service Broadcasting Bill directly to Parliament in 2012, which creates the impression that previous commitments made by the DOC may be sidelined. The SOS Coalition therefore respectfully requests clarity on the matter and assurance that the policy review process will be followed through.
Also, a further concern is the Department’s plans as regards its oversight commitments. While the Coalition welcomes the Department’s obvious vigour in ensuring the efficient running of the various state owned enterprises in its portfolio, including the SABC and ICASA, the Coalition believes it is not appropriate for the Department to ensure that the SABC “aligns itself with government priorities”.
The SABC is a public broadcaster. It needs to align its priorities to strengthening the values of the Constitution and policies that broadly aim to improve the lives of South Africans including the creation of decent jobs, better public education and healthcare services, fighting crime and corruption and safeguarding human rights and media freedom. The public broadcaster must encourage and provide a platform for vigorous debate around government’s priorities but it cannot directly align itself with these priorities. This needs to be made clear.
The SOS Coalition represents a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA, BEMAWU and MWASA; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); and a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.