SABC board interviews: Drama, disruptions and disclosures

2013-08-23 11:18

There were many interruptions on the third day of interviews for the SABC board in Cape Town yesterday, some more dramatic than others.

All were upstaged, though, by surprising revelations from members of the interim board and by a little-known lawyer who emerged as a champion of citizens’ rights.

Early in the session, Northern Cape politician Constance Seoposengwe asked if the proceedings could be halted while she gathered her thoughts in the face of tough questions. Tea was called.

Later Seoposengwe spoke passionately about the SABC fulfilling the needs of normal citizens.

She was one of several candidates with big ideas around culture and social upliftment, but not enough in-depth knowledge of the workings of the public broadcaster to please all of the committee.

Another was Nomvuyiso Mhlakaza, a senior manager at the National Youth Development Agency. She caused a minor stir when she confessed that she doesn’t always pay her TV licence.

“Do I really have to answer that question?” said Mhlakaza when asked if she does. She clarified by saying that she tries to pay her dues from time to time, but does falter and fall into arrears.

Her honesty was refreshing and she impressed the committee as a young leader, but not necessarily as a broadcast leader.

Lawyer Deborah Thompson inadvertently came to her defence later in the day when she said she wasn’t surprised licence fee collection was low at the SABC as “paying of TV licences is a sure measure of how well an organisation is run”.

Thompson was the surprise star interview, but the strongest impression was made by Noluthando Gosa, deputy chair of the current SABC interim board.

She spoke confidently of what the broadcaster could become and how to get there. She made a startling admission about the industry regulator, Icasa.

Gosa admitted that the SABC has at times fallen short of its Icasa local content mandates, something never before confessed by the broadcaster, even in the light of a non-compliance report by Icasa. Gosa went further, saying that Icasa hasn’t recently even attempted to bring the SABC to book on this.

She and several members of the interim board said poor audience measuring methods were largely to blame for the SABC’s perceived loss of viewers. She said this was being rectified with the agency involved in gathering data.

She said the SABC had a long way to go, but was “well on its way”. In past years, she said, she has “been in and seen an SABC that South Africans were proud of, an SABC that works” and that she believes it can be achieved again.

Former Competition Commission investigator Thembinkosi Bonakele also gave a frank interview. He was strong on policy, with responses driven by solutions to the public broadcaster’s problems.

In between breaks for the committee to go and vote on the DNA Bill in the National Assembly, solid interviews were given by business executive Joe Makhafula and interim board member Vusi Mavuso.

Mavuso admitted that the SABC faced challenging human resources issues and he was not thrilled by the launch of its 24-hour news channel. He described it as a matter of “the bottom line”, clearly a financial decision and not one of public broadcast mandate.

Seoposengwe had earlier scorned the new channel as most South Africans cannot afford DStv.

There was later a spat between Cope MP Juli Kilian and ANC MP Story Murutuoa. Kilian accused Murutuoa of abusing the chair in order to suppress her questions. A grumpy Murutuoa retorted and Kilian left the chamber, never to return.

Lawyer and self-described “officious bystander” Debbie Thompson then blazed a trail with a feisty declaration of independence and a demand for accountability at the SABC.

She had been nominated by interim board chair Ellen Zandile Tshabalala who, said Thompson, had been her student at law school.

“I see glaring irregularities when I look at (the SABC’s) annual reports,” she said, and proceeded to outline the problems. She returned frequently to a lack of action from the broadcaster’s audit committee, questioning whether the SABC was always operating within the Public Finance Management Act.

She took digs at a lack of ethics reporting from the former board, at poor attendance at board meetings, at interference from SABC executives and the communications minister.

“Even if my viewpoint is not the popular one … I have a right to an opinion and a say in an institution which sits at the heart of the very fabric of our society,” said Thompson.

“If independence were a criterion for the SABC board, I would probably be the most independent. I have no ties, no affiliations, no conflicts.”

She was not the only candidate this week to suggest they were expecting a less than ideal annual report from SABC. The report is expected within the next month.

The board interviews continue on Tuesday next week in Johannesburg. City Press and the SOS Coalition will be covering them and profiling the remaining candidates.

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