SABC board in dark about 24-hour news channel deal

2013-12-15 14:01

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New claims that Pule used CEO to negotiate a deal for a 24-hour SABC news channel on DStv

The full extent of axed communications minister Dina Pule’s interference at the SABC continues to come to light.

The former SABC board was handed the MultiChoice-SABC deal as a fait accompli, with negotiations being handled by Pule, SABC group CEO Lulama Mokhobo and former SABC board chairman Ben Ngubane.

This is according to SABC board minutes, of which City Press has seen copies.

This raises serious concerns around corporate governance and political interference at the SABC.

All three are also implicated in the Public Protector’s provisional report into mismanagement at the SABC, which City Press recently reported on.

Mokhobo was accused of “abuse of power” and “improper conduct” in appointing acting chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Pule was accused of issuing “unlawful orders” and Ngubane of “abuse of power” and “improper conduct”.

City Press has also previously reported that Mokhobo is related to Pule’s boyfriend, Phosane Mngqibisa.

“You can go ahead, I don’t have any comment,” said Pule when contacted about new claims that she used Mokhobo to negotiate a deal for a 24-hour SABC news channel on MultiChoice’s DStv, which Ngubane signed and was then presented to the board without them having been consulted.

Ngubane did not respond to City Press.

The final SABC-MultiChoice deal hit the headlines in October after it emerged that they had inked a R550?million contract in July to provide DStv a news channel and an entertainment channel, which has yet to launch.

The final deal was approved by the last SABC interim board and Pule, and signed by Motsoeneng.

Critics argued that it was selling off the SABC’s broadcasting assets to the country’s dominant pay-TV operator.

There were other contentious clauses around decoder control and MultiChoice’s access to the SABC archives.

But this contract was not the first one signed between the SABC and MultiChoice.

The first contract, of which City Press has seen a copy, does not contain the contentious clause around decoder control, nor the clauses around access to the SABC archives.

According to the board minutes, Pule seriously compromised the SABC’s independence by putting pressure on the board via Ngubane and Makhobo to approve the original news channel deal.

Several former SABC board members, who spoke to City Press on condition of anonymity, confirmed this.

MultiChoice told City Press this week that the contract was negotiated with Mokhobo and that Ngubane was not involved. He only cosigned the first agreement.

MultiChoice spokesperson Jackie Rakitla said: “The group CEO communicated to MultiChoice that the board had approved the deal.” He added that the minister was briefed on the proposal and concept of the channel. “We are not aware of the pressure put on the SABC executives. We can’t comment on behalf of the SABC on their internal approval processes.”

Current Communications Minister Yunus Carrim said he was in the dark about the first SABC-MultiChoice contract. “I don’t know anything about this and to the best of my knowledge neither does the department of communications.

“We will see if any department officials were involved?...?and can explain what happened and why.”

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said plans for a 24-hour news channel were made clear well before Pule was appointed as minister.

“A business plan was sent to the board to approve and all other necessary processes were followed to ensure that at the end of the day, [the] SABC news channel is a self-funded project from new commercial sources and not on the current SABC cash sources.”

The minutes

In the SABC board minutes of February 7 2012, a board member raises the fact that President Jacob Zuma was going to announce a 24-hour SABC news channel in his state of the nation address.

In the minutes, Mokhobo advised the board that “the minister had been in conversation with various parties, and MultiChoice was one of those parties”.

In the meeting, former senior SABC news manager Mike Siluma states: “The reality is that there is expectation that a 24-hour news channel would be launched shortly.” He is noted as saying the timelines were very tight and that there was no budget for this channel.

Motsoeneng, the SABC’s acting COO, stated that pressure had been put on the broadcaster to get a business plan approved.

In a later set of minutes, Ngubane, discussing the news channel’s business plan, said “the shareholder was very agitated in terms of this matter” and has requested a workshop to “ensure delivery”.

In the February 7 meeting, board members expressed concern that there was no documentation being supplied to the board prior to discussing the MultiChoice contract.

Ngubane stated that documents were presented to the SABC and that the matter was now a “policy directive”, and that the SABC was required to function within that policy.

On February 24 2012, another board meeting was held. According to the minutes, Mokhobo announced that a contract between the SABC and MultiChoice had been executed.

This despite the fact that the board had not had sight of the contract. But a four-page appraisal of it by SABC legal services was attached to the minutes.

On April 26 2012, the SABC’s news division delivered a business proposal to Makhobo and asked her to take it to the board for approval.

This business plan suggested R778?million would be needed to run the news channel for four years and that 179 additional staff members would be needed.

In minutes for a board meeting held on July 23 2012, Motsoeneng states a member of the board has been having discussions with MultiChoice and had compromised the SABC management.

In October 2012, a report submitted by Mokhobo to the board states technical “dry runs” had begun for the 24-hour channel.

But a report submitted by Mokhobo to the board in January this year states the channel was “mothballed” due to lack of funding.

“Management is currently researching ways of accessing funding to enable the channel to go live at [digital terrestrial TV] switch-on,” says the report.

It was also in October last year that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan labelled the news channel a “vanity project” and said no budget had been approved for it.

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