The past week’s media news has been dominated by drama at the SABC. The public broadcaster has been accused – again – of being in crisis. But the SABC says it is a mischievous rumour. Fienie Grobler reports.
SABC spokesman Kaizer Kganyago sounded perturbed when asked to comment on the latest criticism against the broadcaster.
He replied: “The SABC’s main function is to broadcast. Not one single day have we failed to do that. If you are saying we are not able to put a programme on air, then we have a crisis.
“If you are a bakery and you can’t bake bread, then you are in a crisis,” Kganyago told TheMediaOnline.
The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition in the past days said it was “deeply concerned about the latest flare-ups in the ongoing crisis at the public broadcaster”.
The Independent Producers’ Organisation (IPO) has also expressed concern about the latest developments at the SABC.
This comes after the SABC announced last week it had appointed another acting Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) – Phil Molefe, its head of news. He was taking over from acting GCEO and Chief Financial Officer Robin Nicholson, who has reportedly said his contract had not expired.
“The independent production sector believes that the appointment of the right GCEO – someone with the skills and vision to manage this huge and troubled organisation – is critical for the SABC’s survival,” the IPO said in a statement released this weekend.
“We call on the incumbent SABC Board to do this with transparency and efficiency, remaining mindful of the great responsibility that it bears toward the South African public.”
The SABC said in a statement, announcing Molefe’s appointment: “This appointment will be in force until the finalisation of the process of appointing a permanent GCEO. Mr Robin Nicolson’s contract as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) expired… [on] 30 June 2011.
“We wish to express our gratitude to Mr Nicholson, for the service he has rendered to the corporation and wish him well in his future endeavours.”
Kganyago told TheMediaOnline he could not say when a permanent GCEO would be appointed.
“There are processes that need to be followed,” he said, adding that interviews needed to be done and that the minister and Cabinet were involved. “We can only have a permanent appointment when all the processes have been followed.”
However, the SOS Coalition said: “The Coalition is disappointed by the fact that the Board has taken such a long time to fill the position of CEO. To ensure the stability of the SABC, this should have been a top priority. Again, we need the Board to explain why this hasn’t happened and why we have yet another acting CEO, and the reasons why Mr Phil Molefe has been appointed.”
Molefe is succeeding Nicholson, who succeeded Solly Mokoetle, who resigned from the SABC in September last year.
The Nicholson matter, however, seemed to be another cause for concern for the SABC’s critics. The Mercury newspaper reported that the public broadcaster had not renewed his contract, but that he had insisted he was still on leave and would be returning to work.
SOS co-ordinator, Kate Skinner, said in a statement: “SOS notes the potential problems created by this dispute, including further management instability, further fruitless and wasteful expenditure on labour disputes, as well as the then urgent need to find a new CFO, leaving the SABC with people acting in two essential positions.”
According to The Mercury, this would not be the only labour dispute the SABC faced. It said the general manager of new resources, Rapitsi Montsho, allegedly dismissed for misconduct, had to be reinstated into his job after a ruling against the public broadcaster.
The SOS also expressed concern about the recent resignation of board member Peter Harris.
Kganyago did not want to speculate about the reasons for his resignation. “It is not our responsibility to give the reasons for resignations. We have never done that,” he said.
Business Day newspaper speculated that Harris had resigned after a meeting about amendments to the SABC’s Articles of Association. One of the amendments reportedly was to give the board more latitude to appoint an employee, who is not an SABC director, in a management position.
Skinner said: “The SOS has, for many years now, argued that the Articles and Memorandum of Association of the SABC ought to be publicly available and ought not to be entered into or amended without the public being heard on the matter. The SABC is not a typical company, it is the public broadcaster and must be open, and transparent in its dealings.”
Another report around the SABC recently revolved around retrenchments. More than one newspaper said there was a rumour that employees older than 55 would be retrenched.
But Kganyago squashed that rumour. “There’s no truth in that,” he told the TheMediaOnline.
He said SABC trade unions had called a “separate meeting” for employees over the age of 55 because they had “different issues” to discuss. But the unions then cancelled the meetings.
“The meetings never happened,” said Kganyago.
But the SOS was not convinced, saying that “the SABC has been experiencing ongoing corporate governance crises since late 2007” and called for decisive action to solve the broadcaster’s problems.
Fienie Grobler is a journalist or the South African Press Association (SAPA)