SABC usurping Parliament and president’s powers

2015-03-24 10:00

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It has been quite a week at the SABC.

Its board has allegedly removed a sitting nonexecutive board member, Hope Zinde, by passing a motion of no confidence in her.

Alliance partners the SA Communist Party and Cosatu have issued extraordinarily strongly worded statements on the matter, alleging that the reasons behind the motion include Zinde’s opposition to a murky agreement to sell the publicly funded SABC archive to MultiChoice.

The ANC has been strangely silent.

Hope Zinde

I have no knowledge of what Zinde has or has not done and cannot say if she is worthy of censure or not.

What is clear, I think, from the provisions of the Broadcasting Act that governs the appointment and removal of members of the board of the SABC, is that the other members of the SABC have no legal authority whatsoever to remove Zinde from her position, irrespective of what she has or has not done.

The removal of nonexecutive members of the board is governed by sections 15 and 15A of the Broadcasting Act and these are very clearly worded, such that only the appointing body may remove a nonexecutive board member.

The appointing body is the president, acting on the advice of the National Assembly, in terms of section 13(1) of the Broadcasting Act. However, even the president cannot act unilaterally – as the removal of a nonexecutive board member requires one of two processes to have been undertaken:

»?The president has the discretion to remove a member on account of misconduct or inability to perform his or her duties efficiently after due enquiry and upon recommendation by the board, according to section 15(1)(a). This section is anomalous as it contains no reference to the National Assembly – although the definition of an appointing body clearly includes its advisory role; or

»?The president must remove a member from office after a finding to that effect by the National Assembly, after due process, and the adoption by the National Assembly of a resolution calling for that member’s removal in terms of section 15A of the Broadcasting Act – section 15(1)(b) read with section 15A(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act.

Simply put, the act allows for two types of removal processes: one that involves the president and the board only, and one that involves the president and the National Assembly too.

It remains to be seen if our courts are of the view that the National Assembly can, in fact, be left out of the process entirely.

I have my doubts on that score. A recent SABC statement says that “the ANC has commended the SABC for the work it has done in resolving its problems”.

If this is true, it is astounding and I support the SACP and Cosatu’s call for the parliamentary portfolio committee to get involved.

Parliament ought to be asserting its crucial role in the appointment and removal of nonexecutive SABC board members.

Thankfully the committee appears to agree and it has undertaken to seek legal advice on the whole issue of appointments and removals of SABC directors which should result in the committee investigating the Hope Zinde saga too.

Limpitlaw is an electronic-communications law consultant and a visiting adjunct professor at the Link Centre, University of the Witwatersrand

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