The ANC wants action on the SABC and within the ICT sector. That’s the message contained in a policy document issued post-Mangaung. Key among the governing party’s resolutions relating to the communications environment emanating from its elective conference is its position on the SABC. The party has issued a policy document relating to broadcasting infrastructure and services that it hopes will finally see the SABC fulfil its mandate as the people’s broadcaster.
The dust hardly had time to settle post-Magaung before the minister of communications, Dina Pule, was embroiled in a scandal that once more deflected from the job at hand: that of transforming the public broadcaster into one that serves the South Africa public, and, of course, driving the introduction of digital terrestrial television before 2015, and resolving the issues around the production of set top boxes required to do so.
While Pule does battle with a personal scandal that saw reports emerge as to her role in last year’s ICT Indaba in Cape Town, and the subsequent enrichment – to the tune of a reported R6 million – of her partner, Phosani Mngqibisa, she also has a fight on her hands closer to home. The ANC is not impressed with the current state of the communications environment, as its policy document makes clear.
“The series of crises at the public broadcaster reflect a lack of leadership, lack of accountability and poor management. In confronting the crisis more emphasis has been placed on reporting processes without a corresponding attention to holding those responsible to account for the financial and organisational maladministration that has brought the public broadcasting institution to the crisis,” it said in the policy document
“Such a situation has prevailed because institutional structures responsible for oversight have not been effective. There has also been an overlap in oversight roles enabling he public broadcaster to forum shop,” it said.
Clearly, the ANC wants action, and issues resolved across a number of levels.
The party’s position is one welcomed by the NGO, SOS: Support Public Broadcasting, a coalition of civil society organisations, production companies and unions dedicated to ensuring the SABC fulfils its given mandate. SOS says the policy document gives a “very honest assessment of the problems”.
“Overall the ANC’s views on broadcasting are positive. The policy doc is very honest about the SABC’s problems. The solutions put forward are closely aligned to the principles put forward in our SOS vision doc,” SOS’s Kate Skinner and Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi told The Media Online.
The ANC talks about the need to increase public funding to the SABC. It also says “government funding must be ring fenced to be targeted towards public programming such as indigenous languages, developmental and educational programming. In addition to government funding, the SABC requires a long-term sustainability strategy based on a people centred approach to public broadcasting”.
Agreed, says SOS. “However to make this work, we need to a do a comprehensive audit of the SABC’s expenses. We need to look at the actual costs and funding required. The SABC has long refused to do this detailed budgeting and planning work. This is critical,” Phamodi and Skinner said.
In its resolutions, the ANC said said there was a need to “review the broadcasting system and policy framework in its entirety before 2015, to identify the gaps and barriers that have prevented the realisation of some of the important goals as well as plan for new services”. This, it said, should culminate in a new forward-looking broadcasting policy to coincide with (DTT)switchover by 2015.
“One overall interesting issue; the ANC seems to be talking about a broadcasting policy review process and then separately an ICT policy review process. The communications ministry is talking about integrating these processes. I think broadcasting needs to be reviewed as part of broader ICT processes,” Phamodi and Skinner said. “These processes are inherently linked. However we need to ensure that broadcasting and content issues are prioritised as part of these as ICT infrastructure and technology issues tend to dominate. (It is heartening to see that the ANC has put such a strong focus on broadcasting in its documents.)”
The ANC believes broadcasting, as part of the ICT industry, is an important economic sector that sustains the South African creative industries”. SOS says the decision by the party to prioritise an ICT policy review is an “excellent” one. “This is long, long overdue,” Skinner said. “There are just a few questions left hanging about how broadcasting fits into this review. The docs talk about the setting up of a national ICT Forum to assist with transformation of the ICT sector. The ANC sees government and industry as the primary players. As a bit of an afterthought it is mentioned that ‘civil society should also participate’. Civil society is a key player and should have equal status. Viewers, listeners and ICT users must be given the priority they deserve,” she said.
“The docs talk about the importance of ICT sector transformation. As part of this the ANC would like to review empowerment targets in all ICT subsectors and elements of the ICT value chain. This should be welcomed but in the context of the ANC looking at broader debates around transformation and ensuring real empowerment in terms of race, class and gender issues.”
The ANC also looked at the role of Icasa, saying its capacity and efficacy was limited by funding restraints, a skills shortage and “confusion on the means and ways of achieving effective regulation”. It said there is an “overriding need to boost the capacity of the regulator to effective monitor the broadcasters in order to enforce licence conditions and regulations”.
SOS agrees, to a point. “The docs say that ICASA needs to be strengthened to play this role. Icasa is certainly the appropriate structure. However, for it to play this role its independence from all vested interests be they government or commercial needs to be safeguarded. Further, its capacity and competence needs to be significantly boosted.”
The ANC believes significant barriers “remain in place in the pay commercial broadcasting sector”.
It says regulation of this sector to enforce effective competition has “not produced the desired competition. There is a need to relook at the behaviour of dominant players, access to premium content including sports rights and access to critical infrastructure by the competitors in this sector to enable the entry of new Pay TV services during the migration process, and new Free to Air players after switch-over in 2015”.
“New players including commercial, public and community should be given preference in order to create a healthy competition with the existing dominant companies,” SOS said.
The ANC would also like to see an increase in funding for diversity in community newspaper, community radio stations and community TV stations.
That’s good, said SOS, but “talk about government prioritising its advertising spend to support emerging commercial media, small commercial media, public and community media” is worrying. “We need objective criteria for this or else this could become a censorship tool to punish media with critical editorial views.”
SOS was hoping that in his State of the Nation Address, President Jacob Zuma would address some of the broadcasting and ICT issues affecting South Africa, particularly considering the ANC’s policy document. They were disappointed. Broadcasting and ICT were barely mentioned.
“Government has stated that, in line with the National Development Plan vision for 2030, it is committed to shaping South Africa into a key knowledge economy in the global information society. An integral step in realising that goal is in developing and extending the reach of information and communication technologies (ICT) across all sectors of society,” SOS said in a statement after SONA.
“To this end, South Africa is embarking on a major ICT policy, legislative and regulatory review process to craft a new ICT vision for the country. Further, it is in the process of rolling out one of the most expensive and far reaching ICT projects it has ever rolled out – the migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television. SOS believes that the cost, scale and impact will be of the magnitude of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup!”
It said it hoped that even though Zuma failed to pay attention to the issues, this didn’t mean they weren’t important. ”
We hope that, despite not mentioning these critical issues in his speech, the Presidency will, nonetheless, prioritise them.”