Parliament must act on SABC crises

2013-03-10 10:00

The crises at the SABC have become so intractable that board and management dealings resemble a three-ring circus.

Last week the board released the acting chief operations officer (COO), Hlaudi Motsoeneng, from his position of COO and veteran journalist Mike Siluma was appointed in his place.

We were then informed that Siluma had resigned.

It seems the chair of the board then attempted to unilaterally reinstate Motsoeneng as acting COO. Other board members have opposed this.

Motsoeneng’s position is currently in limbo and unclear.

In the midst of these instabilities – and fuelling them – there have been a number of rumours linked to the removal of Motsoeneng.

Media reports have linked his removal to a Special Investigations Unit report that allegedly implicates certain board members in corruption.

The SABC board was due to present this report to Parliament last week but the meeting was abruptly postponed till May.

This is only the latest and most public example of the malaise at the SABC. Only a few years ago the entire board of the SABC was removed by Parliament.

Sadly, new board members have not stemmed the crisis.

This is because the nature of the crisis is structural and Parliament has failed to grapple with the underlying causes.

This has to change.

This week even the beleaguered minister of communications called for Parliament to intervene.

We agree. Parliament must in this coming week hold an emergency special hearing into five critical issues.

These issues have to be addressed before the SABC can function as a public broadcaster again.

» The Special Investigations Unit report.

Parliament must deal with the findings and must order the immediate public release of the report.

Where board members have been fingered they must be immediately suspended and Parliament must conduct an investigation into whether that board member should be removed for misconduct.

» The SABC board. Parliament must investigate why the board is unable to act effectively.

If the investigation reveals that board members are deliberately frustrating board decision-making, Parliamentary disciplinary processes must follow.

» The SABC management. Parliament must investigate why the SABC has no permanent management apart from the CEO.

People who have been appointed are on suspension and acting appointments are the norm.

Rumours swirl about executive interference in these decisions.

This is organisationally unsustainable and has a critical impact on content as there is no doubt that organisational drift was at least partly responsible for the 24-hour news channel debacle.

» The lacunae in the Broadcasting Act. In 2009 Parliament was repeatedly warned that the lacunae in the Broadcast Act as to who is responsible for appointing the three executive positions on the board, namely, CEO, CFO and COO, would render a return to stability impossible. This has been proven correct over and over again.

Parliament must deal with these lacunae and correct them to provide that it is the non-executive members of the board who, being accountable for management performance, must be solely responsible for their appointment.

The Minister must not be involved.

» Ministerial interference. City Press has previously reported on the fact that previous SABC board members have referred, in their resignation letters, to interference by the minister in board activities which has rendered their positions untenable and directly contributed to their resignations.

Ministers of communications have a long history of interfering in board appointments of executive management. In no small measure is this interference responsible for the gridlock at the SABC.

Each of these five areas represents a critical issue on its own; jointly, they represent a veritable fire-storm of problems for the SABC.

Parliament put this (and previous) boards in place and it is responsible to the public for overseeing the SABC and the activities and operations of its board.

It is also responsible to the public for passing necessary legislation to guarantee the viability of the SABC and for overseeing the minister of communications, including with respect to interference in the independent public broadcaster.

Parliament has been quick to point fingers but slow to take responsibility for thoroughly investigating the causes of the SABC’s crises and acting thereon.

No one else can address this. Parliament simply cannot afford to kick this into touch by putting off a hearing to some future date.

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