The SABC’s gone overboard

2013-02-03 10:00

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An open letter to Parliament and the presidency on the recent spate of SABC board resignations that have raised questions

Kate Skinner

Acting coordinator

Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi

campaign organiser

On behalf of the SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition

Dear Mr Kholwane,

The SOS Coalition’s working group met on January?30 2013 to discuss a number of critical issues related to the health of public broadcasting in the country.

One of the important issues on the agenda was the latest board resignation – this time of respected board member ­Patricia Makhesha. The reasons for Ms. Makhesha’s resignation have not been released, but media reports have speculated this was due to corporate governance ­problems.

The working group notes with dismay that this is the seventh of the 12 non-executive SABC Board members to resign since 2010 when the board took office.

After an exhaustive Promotion of Access to Information Act request, SOS has managed to obtain from the Presidency the resignation letters of all board members, save for one, since 2010.

These letters can be accessed on the SOS website, and make for depressing reading. What is startling is that where reasons are given for the resignations, they actually focus on two key factors: serious corporate governance problems and inappropriate ­ministerial interference.

In light of this latest resignation, SOS formally and publicly calls upon the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications to hold a special hearing on the two deep-seated problems identified by outgoing SABC board members.

Among others, it is shocking that national cultural treasures such as Barbara Masekela and communications industry leaders such as Felleng Sekha have found it impossible to stay on board.

A fundamental question is: who is ultimately responsible for addressing the governance and other key crises at the public broadcaster to ensure that these problems are resolved once and for all? We believe that because:

» Parliament and the presidency play a key role in the appointment of board members; and

»?Parliament is responsible for oversight of the SABC’s corporate governance plans and finances, these institutions must take ­ultimate responsibility for getting to the root causes of theses crises and stopping them.

SOS therefore believes it is the duty of Parliament to investigate the specific areas of concern raised by board members in their resignation letters.

Further, it is the duty of Parliament to investigate and make public the reasons for Ms Makhesha’s resignation. SOS believes strongly the presidency and Parliament cannot simply accept these letters of resignation and move on.

A further critical issue that Parliament must take up is the issue of the board’s executive members. Of the three executives – CEO, COO and CFO – only the CEO position is confirmed.

SOS believes that all legal battles linked to the other acting posts should be swiftly resolved and these posts must then be widely advertised without further delay to ensure that the best candidates ­apply.

The board?must then, in line with good labour law practices, conduct a fair appointment process leading to the appointment of experienced and respected individuals to these critical posts without any interference or input from the Minister of Communications, which appears to have given rise to many board resignations in the past.

SOS represents trade union federations including Cosatu and Fedusa; independent unions like Bemawu and Mwasa; film and TV production sector ­organisations comprising the South African Screen Federation; a host of NGOs; the Freedom of Expression Institute and Media Monitoring Africa; and academics and ­freedom of expression activists.

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