Battle to save SABC

2017-04-16 06:00
Hlaudi Motsoeneng (Picture: City Press)

Hlaudi Motsoeneng (Picture: City Press)

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The SABC interim board is facing an uphill battle to haul the public broadcaster out of a financial crisis.

Sources say that the interim board, which has broken into subcommittees, is working on a turnaround strategy while dealing with critical financial matters.

A source said: “The SABC will need a loan guarantee from government. The board has already met with the new communications minister [Ayanda Dlodlo] a few times.

“She has set up a technical task team between communications, Treasury and the SABC. They are looking at the loan guarantee.”

During its 2009 crisis, the SABC secured a R1.47bn guarantee, but two well-placed senior SABC sources have told City Press that the crisis is worse this year.

“They need at least R3bn and they need to reverse Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s local content decisions from last year, otherwise we’ll be back [in a state of crisis] in a year,” said one.

Sources say the reasons such a huge bail out is required include plummeting advertising revenue and viewership due to schedule changes ordered by SABC boss Motsoeneng’s unilateral decision to increase local content to 80% on TV and 90% on radio; the cost of running SABC’s contested news channel on DStv; Motsoeneng’s insistence on new appointments; Motsoeneng spending R1.2bn to secure sports rights for TV; as well as commitments to events with Gupta-owned newspaper, The New Age.

- As much as R3bn needed to bail out SABC, say insiders

- Interim board, minister, Treasury working together to ensure staff get paid

- R60m still not paid to producers, despite promises

- Staff reveal extent of technical problems as viewership continues to decline

“No amount has been attached to the loan guarantee talks yet,” said a senior source. “But April salaries will definitely be paid.”

The SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed this saying: “We are dealing with all financial matters on every level.”

Three impeccable sources close to the board remained upbeat this week.

“The board is working,” said one.

“I think board members will be spending the Easter weekend reading tons of paperwork because of induction, which is catching up on the history of the situation.”

The sources say Dlodlo is working well with the SABC. “She’s on top of things. It’s her flagship and she will be judged by what happens at the broadcaster because it’s in the public eye.”

Treasury and the communications department did not respond by the time of going to print.

Producers bear the brunt

Senior managers also say producers within the SABC and with knowledge of the situation are still owed R60m from last month.

This is despite receiving a letter on March 31, which was obtained by City Press, saying that the SABC would meet its payment obligations by April 7.

On Tuesday, the Independent Producers’ Organisation met with the interim board and SABC executives, explaining that the smallest production companies were at the greatest risk of closing, and they demanded clarity on when they would be paid.

According to four sources, the SABC’s acting chief executive officer, James Aguma, apologised and said the loan guarantee was being sought.

Executives said the SABC was working on a payment plan to present to producers next week.

Aguma acknowledged that the SABC’s only income was from advertising revenue and that, if unpaid producers were to withhold content, the crisis would deepen.

Kganyago said the SABC is focused on getting producers paid and “we are engaging with them on an ongoing basis. It is a moving target.”

Technical and ratings collapse

The interim board again met with SABC staff this week. “For the first time, some trust is being re-established,” said a well-placed individual.

Some the litany of complaints raised by staff include the pressures of working with outdated or broken equipment, and the lack of resources in the SABC’s provincial units.

Last month’s TV ratings show that SABC viewership continues to decline. Shows affected by schedule changes are plunging.

Popular talk show Zaziwa has lost 1 million viewers since February, and 7de Laan lost 400 000 viewers last month after its third schedule change.

Hlaudi’s policies will go

Various insiders told City Press this week that there was some frustration on the board due to delays.

“Everything is delayed and encumbered,” said one.

“The game plan definitely seems to be, ‘let’s frustrate these guys, they’ve just got six months and they’ll be gone’. If you ask for something, there’ll be delays.”

Kganyago said the board was not aware of any such delays.

Senior staffers also say the board is determined to implement the recommendations of Parliament’s ad hoc committee, which include undoing Motsoeneng’s unilateral policy changes.

Kganyago said the chair told the staff if any decisions made are found to be wrong, they will be reversed.

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Read more on:    sabc  |  ayanda dlodlo  |  hlaudi motsoeneng

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