The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), is one of the most underrated, constantly attacked public entity within the developmental state. In analysing the role that SABC plays in society, there ought to be a ‘transition of thought’ beyond confining ourselves to corporate governance issues.
This is not to argue that corporate governance issues are not important for public institutions. In fact, it is corporate governance that gives public institutions legitimate accountability. We must, however, note though that ultimate arbiters of public value in the context of broadcasting, including legitimacy thereof contrary to popular belief are not interest groups (pre-occupied with management and corporate governance issues) but ears, eyes and voices of citizens of the Republic and default recipients within extended borders.
Arguably, the national broadcaster has in recent months taken more punches than any other media houses and this is for the minor “percentage” grant that they get from the state. Unfortunately they can’t blow their horn or else they will be told they’re a broadcast monopoly or that they are agents of political propaganda machinery. With less than a year from elections, these allegations will once again find themselves on the pages of independent media house’s pages and sites.
Perhaps I should do the industry a favour and blow the SABC’s horn in this space. I’m of the view that they represent the full embodiment of media freedom, media transformation and that broadcaster has led with its transition. It is by far one of the few state owned entities that has managed to transform itself in leaps and bounds relative to other SOEs.
I have constantly over the past four to five years been monitoring the ups and downs at Auckland Park be with its changes to the board of directors or ‘resignation blackmails’. There is an industry buzz that comes with each and every board appointment, and trust me, you can just do a quick search in the tab on this site to believe the hype. Ironically you will also get doomsayers amongst this search, either from the industry or some self-appointed SABC experts, communications union or some coalition group.
Contrary to popular belief, the SABC board is not the SABC and you will be forgiven for noting and having concerns around the amount of acting and recycling posts when it comes to both executives and board of directors.
It is easy for me to point out things I don’t like about the SABC, with regard to specific TV channels or radio stations within SABC stable, and just maybe issues around corporate governance. But similarly, there are plenty of things that I could easily point out to the so-called independent media houses and their role in democratic South Africa versus their commercial interests.
The common critique around content from SABC, albeit without consideration of the size of its customer base (inclusive of alternative independent radio and TV clients) or the investment required to cater broadcasting services to all citizens without any ‘class’ differentiations, mostly centres around the amount of repeat programming/reruns/lack of local content.
The SABC does not have the luxury of broadcasting on exclusive target markets relative to other independent media houses, so this is perhaps to some extent limited to commercial related services. Furthermore, consideration must be taken between balancing collective public value irrespective of income disparities, race, class, gender. This ‘potjiekos pot’ broadcasting for all presents both its challenges and opportunities and ultimately allows SABC to drive both social cohesion and transformation of the society agenda accordingly.
In reviewing or critiquing board formulation process we ought to be cognisant of social, political and cultural factors that interplay with its role of public broadcasting.
Despite all of this, one has to ask about this neverending “crisis”. Is there any day in the past 10 years that there was ever a broadcast blackout? Personally I can’t recall one. As a matter of fact in June 2011/12, SABC communications head Kaizer Kganyago was quoted as saying, “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”.
Occasionally I listen or watch alternative independent broadcasters but my truth is that each day I consume at-least seven hours of SABC broadcasts. As I write this article I’m approaching four hours already and it’s not even 10am. I would certainly be surprised if the majority of South Africans consume on average less than three hours of SABC daily.
Any multi-lingual South African will attest to the broadcaster’s daily touch points. I’m not a fan of educational programmes, but have found myself watching one or two including that Varsity Revision programme. My son signs off every morning with ‘Salani Kahle Nonke Emakhaya’ or ‘Sharp Sharp’. These shows speak louder than an episode of Ben 10 episode from an educational perspective.
Personally I would not be surprised if an imaginary research study was to prove beyond reasonable doubt that none of the SABC’s board of directors, self-appointed SABC experts and critics, lobby groups, members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications or the majority of MPs consume SABC broadcast content that is watched by the majority of South Africans. Every time there is an SABC sitting in parliament, I wonder who has actually watched the SABC in the past 24 hours.
Just for easy reference thought I should extract the following from SABC site to provide context into their obligations and functions:
“The main object of the Corporation is to supply broadcasting and information services and services that are ancillary thereto, to the general public in the Republic of South Africa and beyond its borders and to achieve the objectives as set out in the Broadcasting Act 4 of 1999, as amended, (‘Broadcasting Act’) in accordance with the objectives set out in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 153 of 1993, as amended, that are directly relevant to the Corporation.
The objectives of the Corporation are –
(a) To make its services available throughout the Republic;
(b) to provide sound and television broadcasting services, whether by analogue or digital means, and to provide sound and television programmes of information, education and entertainment funded by advertisements, subscription, sponsorship, licence fees or any other means of finance;
(c) To acquire from time to time a licence or licences for such period and subject to such regulations, provisions and licence conditions as may be prescribed by the Authority;
(d) To provide, in its public broadcasting services, radio and television programming that informs, educates and entertains;
(e) To be responsive to audience needs, including the needs of the deaf and the blind and account on how to meet those needs;
(f) To provide other services, whether or not broadcasting or programme supply services, such services being ancillary services;
(g) to provide television and radio programmes and any other material to be transmitted or distributed by the common carrier for free to air reception by the public subject to section 33 of this Act;
(h) to provide to other bodies by such means and methods as may be convenient, services, programmes and materials to be transmitted or distributed by such bodies and to receive from such other bodies services, programmes and materials to be transmitted by stations of the Corporation for reception as above;
(i) to commission, compile, prepare, edit, make, print, publish, issue, circulate and distribute, with or without charge, such books, magazines, periodicals, journals, printed matter, records, cassettes, compact disks, video tapes, audiovisual and interactive material, whether analogue or digital and whether on media now known or hereafter invented, as may be conducive to any of the objects of the Corporation;
(j) to establish and maintain libraries and archives containing materials relevant to the objects of the Corporation and to make available to the public such libraries and archives with or without charge;
(k) to organise, present, produce, provide or subsidise concerts, shows, variety performances, revues, musical and other productions and performances and other entertainment whether live or recorded in connection with the broadcasting and programme supply services of the Corporation or for any purpose incidental thereto;
(l) to collect news and information in any part of the world and in any manner that may be thought fit and to establish and subscribe to news agencies;
(m) to carry out research and development work in relation to any technology relevant to the objects of the Corporation and to acquire by operation of law, registration, purchase, assignment, licence or otherwise copyright and designs, trade marks, trade names and any other intellectual, industrial and commercial property rights;
(n) to nurture South African talent and train people in production skills and carry out research and development for the benefit of audiences;
(o) to develop, produce, manufacture, purchase, acquire, use, display, sell, rent or dispose of sound recordings and films and materials and apparatus for use in connection with such sound recordings and films;
(p) to develop and extend the services of the Corporation beyond the borders of South Africa”
In light of the above, perhaps the SABC’s critics should first align themselves in the process of understanding the role of the SABC. Arguably, the SABC has done well in enhancing democratic developmental state, and influenced overall cultural development inevitably human development. Those that have been tasked and mandated to perform their duties by coalition groups that claim to speak for the majority, while confining themselves to pity management and board appointment issues should begin to ask themselves if their truly advancing South Africa’s interest or acting as ponds in the game of public broadcaster sabotage. The role that SABC has played and continues to play in shaping the media industry in its entirety cannot be underestimated or undermined, it is one institutions that continues to drive SA overall strategic objectives and building of socially inclusive republic, a true Beacon of transformation post-democratic dispensation.
Follow Tshepo Moletsane on Twitter @mobisoul