SABC exec gets the chop

2014-11-23 18:00

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Hlaudi Motsoeneng has allegedly suspended the SABC’s group head of technology after he wrote a damning report saying the broadcaster’s infrastructure was so broken and outdated it could not keep its own TV channels on air.

After a crisis last month that saw all SABC TV channels and some radio stations off air for hours, group technology head Sipho Masinga wrote a report to the broadcaster’s management saying more were to come.

“Interruptions to broadcasts can now occur at any time and anywhere because the broadcaster’s aging infrastructure is not being maintained at all in any of the nine provinces,” he wrote.

Masinga drafted the report on instruction from SABC management after SABC?1, SABC?2, SABC?3 and several radio stations disappeared from air for between 30 minutes and an hour on the weekend of October 3 to 5, and again on October 19.

State-owned broadcasting signal distributor Sentech was also not operating when the three channels went down on October 19. It should start broadcasting a prerecorded tape immediately if there are problems, but the tape was only broadcast 30 minutes later.

Masinga found in his report that the interruptions occurred because the emergency generators at the broadcast centre in Auckland Park, Joburg, did not work.

He said these generators were outdated and did not comply with the necessary requirements to provide enough power to the broadcast centre in an emergency.

“The question is how the broadcaster found itself in this situation. The undeniable fact is that years and years of mismanagement at the SABC have led to infrastructure that should have been written off long ago still being used,” he wrote. “The situation is aggravated by the appointment of incompetent persons who place moratoriums on maintenance and investments in new technology.”

City Press’s sister publication, Rapport, is in possession of Masinga’s report, as well as emails between him and SABC acting group CEO Anton Heunis.

Heunis told Masinga in a letter dated October 20 the SABC held him responsible for the crisis and intended to suspend him. Heunis went on sick leave soon thereafter and Motsoeneng is now acting group chief executive.

A highly placed SABC source said Motsoeneng gave orders for Masinga to be suspended after his report was handed to SABC management. Masinga’s access card has been deactivated and his access to the SABC’s IT system has been revoked.

In emails to Heunis, Masinga denied the crisis was his fault. He said the SABC had not invested in maintenance nor upgraded its infrastructure in the past 16 years. Outdated infrastructure installed 30 years ago, he said, was still in use and the SABC infrastructure maintenance backlog now amounted to about R2?billion.

He wrote: “Many of the SABC’s buildings in the nine provinces are unsafe and falling apart?...?Lifts no longer work in some of the buildings and most of the public broadcaster’s studios are completely outdated.”

In another email, Masinga said the SABC needed “millions of rands to enter the digital arena in the broadcasting industry” and to convert its TV signals from analogue to digital in the next seven months, but the SABC is not nearly ready for this.

SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed the blackouts, which “resulted in a temporary interruption of its television services”. He would not discuss the reports as he said they are “internal SABC documents”. But he said the SABC is investigating and “working on the issues” to ensure “it doesn’t happen again”.

Regarding Masinga, Kganyago said: “The SABC can confirm that he has been suspended and that this matter is between the employer and employee, and we are therefore not at liberty to discuss this matter further or conduct our disciplinary processes within the media”.

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