There’s been a surge of activity emanating from the Presidency and the communications department this week as President Jacob Zuma and communications minister, Dinah Pule, announced some key appointments in the government / media space.
The SABC finally has a new CEO and not only that, but Pule has appointed a woman to the position. Lulama Mokhobo has worked for the SABC previously, in the position of group executive for public broadcasting services, and has years of experience in the broadcast sector, including time as CEO of Urban Brew, a director at e.tv and has even done time as the head of Eskom’s PR division.
“Ms Mokhobo’s appointment reaffirms Minister Pule’s commitment to, after due process and consideration, quickly fill the top executive positions at the public broadcaster. This should allow the SABC to deliver broadcasting services to the South African public in a cost effective manner,” the communications department said in a statement.
“The appointment is with immediate effect for a period of five years. Ms Mokhobo has the relevant qualifications, skills, capabilities and experience required for the position.”
At the same time as Mokhobo’s appointment was announced, the Presidency appointed a new member to the beleaguered SABC board and not only that, but the president made Thami Ka Plaatjie deputy chairman too. Ka Plaatjie replaces Peter Harris, who resigned as a member of the board last year.
Ka Plaatjie is the former secretary general of the Pan Africanist Congress who resigned as leader of the party, and later joined the ANC. He was on the shortlist of board nominees made last year after Harris quit. “I wish Mr Ka Plaatjie all the best in his new responsibilities and we are confident that he will serve to the best of his ability,” President Zuma said in a statement.
The Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) has welcomed both appointments. The union said it “welcomes the appointment of Mr Thami Ka Plaatjie to the board of the SABC as deputy chairperson as well as the return of former GE: Public Services, Ms Lulama Mokhobo who now becomes the first woman Group Chief Executive of the SABC”.
“The appointments come at the beginning of what MWASA hopes would be the beginning of genuine stabilisation of the public entity after years of crisis-management and unsustainable levels of opportunity costs,” MWASA said, adding that the SABC “remained in ICU and this will be the case for some time”.
It said it was “critical and crucial that the SABC recovers from its catatonic state of arrested development and charts a way forward towards becoming the beacon of hope for the millions of South Africans and an inspiration to the population of the continent and beyond”, MWASA said in a statement.
“This will only happen if there is sufficient integrity and commitment to shared- values, passion and thought-leadership at the helm of the national broadcasting services provider (SABC),” it said.
MWASA added that it was looking forward to “better co-operation” with those with the best interests of the SABC at heart, and committed itself to “upholding the values and virtues of a relevant, responsive, accountable, transparent, participatory and inclusive public broadcaster”.
While the appointments of Mokhobo and Ka Plaatijies have been accepted, in general, by stakeholders in the broadcast media, the same cannot be said for President Zuma’s next move: the appointment of controversial government spokesperson, Jimmy Manyi, to the board of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA).
The Democratic Alliance – which has had some success in legally overturning certain influential appointments made by Zuma – said the president should “revoke” the appointment of Manyi to the MDDA. Natasha Michaels, the DA’s shadow minister of communications, said this “ looks like another ill-considered Zuma appointment. The President must limit the damage by revoking Manyi’s appointment as soon as possible”.
She gave five reasons for doing so:
Political influence: Section 2 of the MDDA Act (Act 14 of 2002) states that the agency is “independent”, and must exercise its powers without political interference. According to the Government Yearbook, the entity functions “independently and at arm’s length of its funders”. The appointment of the government spokesperson to the MDDA clearly jeopardises the independence of the entity.
Past conduct: In terms of Section 5 of the MDDA Act, a person may not be appointed as a member of the Agency’s board if he has “as a result of improper conduct, been removed from an office of trust”. In June 2010 Jimmy Manyi was suspended from his position as Director-General in the Department of Labour following a complaint that he used an official meeting to promote his private interests. Mr Manyi appealed the suspension, but was placed on special leave until his appointment as government spokesperson in February 2011.
Lack of consultation: Yesterday’s statement by the Presidency claimed that the appointment of five new board members (including Mr Manyi) “followed recommendations from the National Assembly”. Mr Manyi’s appointment was not recommended by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications and his appointment was not discussed in or approved by Parliament.
Position on media freedom: The MDDA Act also requires that board members must be persons who are “committed to fairness, freedom of expression, openness and accountability”. Last year, Mr Manyi made headlines for suggesting that the government could withdraw advertising revenue from newspapers that do not toe the line. These statements draw Manyi’s commitment to freedom of expression into question.
Prejudiced views: Mr Manyi has a history of making racially divisive comments. Given his prejudiced views, it is inappropriate that he should be appointed to a body tasked with promoting diversity.
But the Presidency immediately hit back, with spokesperson Mac Maharaj saying that the law allowed for the president to make three of the nine appointments to the MDDA board without Parliament’s approval.
“While the law stipulates that there should be nine (9) members on the board of the Media Development and Diversity Agency, Section 4(1)(b) of Act 14 of 2002 requires that six of them are appointed by the President on the recommendation of Parliament and the other three are appointed directly by the President in terms of section 4(1)(c),” Maharaj said.
“In informing the public of these appointments, our statement yesterday explicitly referred to both sections of the law. It is therefore regrettable to imply that the President was not acting within the law or to imply that the President’s decision was ill-considered or that the National Assembly did not recommend certain names.”
President Zuma appointed a further four members to the MDDA board. They are: Mr Phenyo Nonqane, Ms Rene Alicia Smith, Mr Thato Mahapa and Ms Ingrid Louw
The new Board members take on their roles with effect from 01 January 2012 for a term of three years.
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