The public broadcaster has been rocked by a series of events this past week that have seen the SABC accused of taking its cues from ‘his master’s voice’, the ANC, and of giving in to political interference by Roy Padayachie, the minister of communications. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) unpacks the events as they unfolded, and asks what has changed since 2007, when GCEO Dali Mpofu left under a cloud.
The latest events at the SABC see it making the news for all the wrong reasons. The ANC and the Minister of Communications have been accused of politically interfering in the process of appointing the new GCEO. This claim comes in the wake of the resignation of SABC board member Peter Harris and the dismissal of the CFO Robin Nicholson, who had been acting in the position of GCEO since the sacking of Solly Mokoetle last year.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is deeply concerned by the ongoing governance crises at the SABC. The crises seemed to climax in 2007.
However, despite various attempts to bring stability we seem to be little further than where we were some three years ago, in terms of fundamentally addressing corporate governance issues. MMA believes that the appointment of the GCEO should be made by the SABC board alone.
MMA is especially concerned with the manner in which the board, the Minister and the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio committee have reportedly handled this latest crisis at the SABC.
It defies belief that four years after the leadership crisis involving the then GCEO Dali Mpofu, the Minister and the Board that we have a the public broadcaster, (that is mandated to serve the public’s interest) which has no full time, formally appointed GCEO, CFO or COO. This is a clear sign of a governance crisis at the SABC, and the Board, the Minister and the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio committee must all shoulder some responsibility for this latest turn of events.
Furthermore, MMA is deeply concerned by the lack of communication on these issues, with ordinary members of the public having little option but to rely on print media for information about what has been happening at the SABC.
The chain of events:
– In august 2008 SOS, supported by key coalition members presented to Parliaments PortfolioCommittee on Communications the urgent need to amend the Broadcasting Act so as to resolvethe then dispute over power of appointments and ensure adherence to principles of good corporate governance in appointments.
– On Friday June 24, 2011, the SABC board chaired by Ngubane resolved that Nicholson’s contract should be extended by six months.
– Nicholson said that he then met with the board and the Minister on two separate meetings where they agreed and concluded the terms of his contract.
– On June 28, 2011 the Minister convened the meeting during in which he amended the articles of association, (this was apparently an Annual General Meeting).
– On June 30, 2011 Nicholson is dismissed, on the same day he serves the SABC with a letter from his lawyers advising of their intent to take the matter further.
– The following day, Friday, July 1, 2011 a board member, Peter Harris, resigns.
– Over the weekend the ANC is quoted in nationla media saying that it was not happy with the SABC Board’s preferred candidate for the GCEO position, as his political background is not clear.
It is also concerning that the ANC is reported as coming out saying that technically the CV of the preferred candidate by the board looks impressive but the ANC is not sure of his political background.
“We [ANC] do not want to take chances with the position of the GCEO. We do not know about his activism”. (Sunday Independent, July 3, 2011, p 1)
This statement, if accurate, has grave implications not only for the independence of the SABC but also the independence of the whole broadcasting sector. We cannot have a public broadcaster that is held to ransom by a political party. The ANC has since denied any role in the GECO appointment saga. The public is left uncertain, did the media get it wrong?
Speaking on media freedom limitations generally, William Bird, director of MMA has said “that Many African countries do not have media freedom and if South Africa takes action to restrict its media, many Southern African countries are most likely to follow”.
MMA supports SOS Support Broadcasting Coalition’s call on the SABC Board, the Minister and the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications to ensure that:
1) The following documents are made available to the public, namely:
– Minutes of Board Meetings (save for confidential commercial information)
– The Memorandum of Association of the SABC; and
– The Articles of Association of the SABC;
2) That no confidentiality agreements are in place regarding Board matters other than in respect of SABC’s proprietary confidential commercial information. In particular we call on these bodies to release Mr Harris’ reasons for resigning into the public domain; and
3) That a permanent appointment of the CEO of the SABC happens as quickly as possible and in accordance with due process.