Adriaan Basson

Is the SABC about to collapse?

2016-07-27 13:27

Adriaan Basson

"Blackout" may soon have a very literal meaning at the public broadcaster if reports from insiders are correct.

Not only will more and more SABC staffers wear black clothing on-air in solidarity with the #SABC8, but they may soon have nothing to report on – and no salary to pay their bills.

I've been reliably told over the past few days that the SABC had applied some drastic cost-cutting measures to save the corporation from financial collapse.

This allegedly includes cutting down on subscriptions to foreign wire services like Reuters and BBC and cancelling DSTV subscriptions.

There is also serious talk inside the corridors of Auckland Park of pulling the plug on the SABC’s planned Olympic Games coverage.

Staffers have been warned that they may no longer travel to Brazil to cover the Olympics that starts next week.

The public broadcaster had already paid more than R2m for Olympics-related costs and won’t be able to recoup all of it.

"We are broke," said an inside source with knowledge of the SABC’s dire financial position.

The Sunday Times reported two weeks ago that the SABC was cash-strapped and had applied for a R1.5bn bail-out from the banks.

"This would force the communications department to approach the National Treasury to guarantee the loan, which economists say could trigger a ratings agency downgrade for South Africa,” the newspaper reported.

It has been speculated that the SABC will report a loss of between R500m and R1bn in September.

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC’s chief operating officer, has consistently dismissed reports of financial troubles at the public broadcaster, saying the SABC had enough money in the bank and that it had to be "sustainable", not "profitable".

Financial Mail recently reported that the SABC spends about R600m per month on operating costs and had to have R650m in the bank to continue its operations. It was reported that this balance had shrunk to just over R200m earlier this month.

SABC staffers fear that the next cut may be into their salaries. “We are concerned that we won’t be paid at the end of September,” said a senior staff member.

While the public broadcaster is bleeding financially, it had recently agreed to a golden handshake of R18m for former CEO Frans Matlala.

The DA has asked Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to confirm the settlement, claiming it may be in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Motsoeneng has shown that he is not scared to splurge on legal expenses, the latest being the SABC’s decision to appeal a ruling by the Labourt Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday that four of the so-called #SABC8 journalist should be reinstated to their jobs.

Motsoeneng is paying lawyers, while his colleagues are cancelling wire and TV subscriptions, overseas trips to cover global sporting events and may soon have to cull salaries to save the corporation from financial ruin.

Endgame at Auckland Park may well have arrived.

- Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @adriaanbasson

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