Influencing the SABC

2009-06-22 00:00

WITH the collapse of the South ­African Broadcasting Corporation board, calls have been made to privatise it. Those making this call argue that it would ensure that the board is freed from political influences. Those appointed to serve on the board would then not be people who have been deployed by the African National Congress (ANC).

They further argue that if privatised, the board would be run ­efficiently by people who are competent to do so. Some people have said it is incredible that most of the board members did not have any media qualifications or experience.

Now at face value, all of this sounds very reasonable and logical. I am all for changes to be made to the SABC board if that will mean the board delivers on its constitutional mandate.

Given the numerous and divergent interest groups — political, social and commercial — that hover over the board and want to influence the SABC, which one should prevail?

We have to acknowledge that these interest groups include those from the fair-sounding quarters who appear to be making reasonable suggestions. It is simply dishonest to make calls for the privatisation of the SABC board and fail to mention that, while this might have its advantages, privatisation has some serious deficiencies.

There are many examples where the government has outsourced an entity with the hope that it will yield the desired result, only to find that the opposite happens. The government has also tried another model: that of private-public partnerships, as these were said to bring about a win-win situation. But this again proved to be a pipe dream.

The other problem is that those who argue for privatisation are not open about the fact that they too have political interests. Many of these people are quite simply hostile to black majority rule, hence the constant attack on the SABC board or its senior managers.

Take, for instance, the case of the former head of news Dr Snuki Zikalala. We know he worked as a journalist — a labour reporter — before he moved through the ranks. Yet he was not spared criticism, with snide remarks about his Bulgarian degree. His “sin” appears to be the fact that he did not hide the fact that he was an ANC cadre.

But like I said before, I am all for changes to be made to the SABC board. For instance, I support the call that the state needs to give more financial support to the SABC than it is currently ­doing. If it is true that the SABC‘s government subsidy amounts to a mere two percent, with the rest of the income being derived from advertisers, then that needs to change.

But the point is that those people who are making these calls to privatise the SABC fail to mention that there are also commercial interests involved. Many of those who have been jumping up and down are independent producers who want the SABC to accept any and all programmes that they sent to the commissioning executives, even when these programmes do not meet the necessary requirements in terms of the constitutional mandate of the SABC.

As a public broadcaster, the SABC has to reflect the needs and interests of that very same ­public. Of course, the public is not a homogeneous undivided whole, but even then, the expectation is that it has to capture the interests and values of the greatest majority.

But as many of us are aware, there are many viewers, black viewers to be specific, who complain of the irrelevance of most of the programmes that are flighted by the public broadcaster. Nguni-speaking viewers have in the past complained about some of the dramas that were shown on television.

Lest we forget, the SABC has to operate in a certain way so that it meets its mandate as dictated by the Broadcasting Act. In short, it does not function in a vacuum.

I do not believe that a public ­entity necessarily needs to be ­privatised in order to stop corruption, nepotism, abuse of resources and similar problems. Such problems also occur in the private sector.

 

• Bhungani kaMzolo is deputy director of communications at the Department of Health. Here he writes in his personal capacity.

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