OPINION: Watching the Twitter feed unfurl as this week’s instalment of the SABC reality TV show unfolded was to realise many South Africans are just plain fed up with the goings on at the public broadcaster.
This week’s show was a two-parter, with the action firstly taking place within parliament as the ad-hoc committee investigating the situation at the SABC got down to the business of interrogating various documents the executive at the public broadcaster and their one-man-board were supposed to supply. But of course, when it comes to the SABC, nothing is simple. No, they said. Many of those documents are commercially sensitive, relating to the corporation’s advertising deals. What’s more, they said, the documents supplied by the ad-hoc committee had not been transcribed into braille so the blind chairperson and sole member of the board could not read them.
And just to underline how disrespected they felt about this assault on the dignity of Professor Mbulaheni Maguvhe, they walked out. Maguvhe, meanwhile, has done his damndest to avoid appearing, taking a leaf out of President Jacob Zuma’s book by utilising all sorts of legal delaying tactics. And using the public purse to fund his shenanigans too.
He appears oblivious to the utter absurdity of the situation, that a one-man-board could possibly oversee governance and financials at one of the continent’s biggest media companies. And the SABC’s executive are impervious to the fact that the broadcaster’s mandate is to inform and entertain South Africa’s citizens and that avoiding explaining their actions in parliament is a two’s up to the nation. (As well as an appalling waste of money better spent on crafting superb content and empowering the TV industry.) Outrageous behaviour in anyone’s books.
But the ad-hoc committee appeared unfazed. The inquiry would continue, whether the SABC took part or not, leaving it to the man who pushed for the investigation, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu, to vocalise the outrage so many felt watching the drama unfold on our TVs, for which we pay annual licence fees.
“The walkout and the irrational request by Maguvhe and other SABC representatives today are the latest in a series of stalling tricks aimed at frustrating the work of the ad-hoc committee,” Mthembu fumed.
“Today’s [Wednesday’s] walkout, including the refusal to provide Parliament with documents, was designed to disrupt the work of Parliament and show contempt for Parliament’s constitutional powers.
“The utter disrespect that the SABC chairman and his lackeys continue to demonstrate against Parliament, including the very institution they lead, represents a serious attack against these public institutions and the people of South Africa,” he said in a statement.
Cut to a press conference (late, of course) hosted by that SABC executive to explain their actions. The committee was disrespectful of the professor’s disability, the all-male team said. Parliament had no right to demand confidential commercial information.
And by the way, the man for long-running reality TV show, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, informed the nation that just because the public paid for their TV licences did not mean we have any right to question governance at the SABC or anything else, for that matter as this only contributed 13% of the broadcaster’s income. Most income came from advertising, so even the ad-hoc committee didn’t have the right to question the SABC as the government only contributed 2% of its money. Why should parliament have any say over the SABC? Why should the Auditor-General even look at their books? Advertising supported the SABC, he said.
The logic of Hlaudi
Cue gasps from the nation. Following Motsoeneng’s reasoning then, South African Airways is funded by ticket sales and is therefore not answerable to government, its shareholder. Denel’s arms sales are none of government’s business. The fact that the SABC is a state-owned enterprise and as its main shareholder, the government is perfectly entitled to oversee its finances and its governance is immaterial to Motsoeneng. Like Zuma, he believes “dark forces out there” are out to destroy him and the SABC. Financially, the SABC is doing “wonderfully”, he said, and the R400 million loss mentioned by the AG was an investment, not a loss. Right.
Cut back to parliament, where new public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane faced the ad-hoc committee. Bottom line, she is less than impressed with the SABC’s response to her predecessor’s report, When Governance and Ethics Fail, issued over two years ago. Listing Advocate Thuli Madonsela’s remedial actions, she noted the SABC had failed to comply and now, 25 months AFTER its issue, had decided to take the report on judicial review. Even the SABC’s claim it had held a disciplinary hearing with Motsoeneng was “malicious compliance” as it had failed to call witnesses and simply cleared him of everything. She would follow up on the remedial action, she said, and would soon file a supplementary affidavit in response.
The next episode airs today as the ad-hoc committee continues its working, interviewing former SABC board members.