What is wrong with the SABC?

2011-01-22 19:47

Media experts this week agreed that there is “something fundamentally wrong” with the SABC.

After 17 years the public broadcaster is still mired in controversy following yet another golden handshake to get rid of yet another group chief executive officer (CEO).

CEO Solly Mokoetle’s R3.4-million settlement with the SABC board after his resignation this week is worth every penny, experts say.

“Paying Mokoetle out his contract earlier was a good thing. The board will have to be accountable for the money spent,” says former SABC board member Professor Ruth Teer-Tomaselli.

“A disciplinary hearing would have been bad for the country and the broadcaster because enough damage has been done.

Such a hearing could have been prolonged and dirty, and it would have left the person who takes over with more dirt and damage to clean up.”

Mokoetle was the SABC’s chief operations officer between 2001 and December 2006 and was appointed as group chief executive officer by the former communications minister, Siphiwe Nyanda.

Sapa reports that Mokoetle’s appointment as group chief executive officer was opposed by the SABC board, since he had reportedly left the state broadcaster in a huff as chief operating officer after a damning audit report compiled by Gobodo Forensic and Investigative Accounting in 2005.

The report found that he had failed badly in his corporate governance duties.

A showdown between Mokoetle and the board came when he nominated Phil Molefe as head of news.

The board eventually suspended him for appointing Molefe and also alleged that he had failed to come up with a turnaround plan for the broadcaster.

Says Teer-Tomaselli: “Mokoetle’s great sin is that he sidestepped the board. He made a big mistake by coming back to the SABC. They did not want him back.

He should have gone while his reputation was still intact.

“When (then) communications minister Siphiwe Nyanda was fired, Mokoetle lost his power base.

It was a huge vote of no confidence, especially for a minister who is a political favourite, to be fired.

Mokoetle had invested in that relationship and that has seriously hurt him.”

Teer-Tomaselli says the position of group chief executive officer is difficult because the incumbent needs to balance the needs of the organisation with the kind of political and social demands made by the board.

From the onset of the “new” SABC it has never been made clear what the roles of the chairperson of the board and the group chief executive officer are.

‘Too many hands’
Teer-Tomaselli says there are also too many hands in the pot.

“What is not clear is the lines of accountability and reporting. If they do not get that clear it is never going to work,” Teer-Tomaselli says, referring to the number of bodies and people from outside the SABC who have a say over how the public broadcaster should function: from the parliamentary portfolio committee to the Department of Communications’

director-general and minister, as well as the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and the SABC board.
“There has to be a balance between who does what.

They just cannot seem to get that right.”

Professor Jane Duncan, chair of media and information society at Rhodes University, says three factions have emerged within the SABC over the past 17 years:

» Those fighting for the true transformation of the SABC to become a public broadcaster;

» Those who hold a more commercialised vision and want the SABC to embark on a path of sustainable growth to do away with public and government funding; and

» The rise of those, specifically in the news broadcasting areas, who believe that the public broadcaster should move closer to government and state visions.

“There is a confused vision at the SABC. Nobody knows what it is. It has elements of state, public and commercial broadcasting,” Duncan says.

“It is always shifting between these, depending on what the vision is from outside the SABC and in the ruling party.

“They have to commit to one vision once and for all to be a public broadcaster.

Leave commercialisation to the private sector – and state broadcasting should have died with apartheid.”

According to Duncan, lines of accountability will clear up once it has a single vision.

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