‘Kids could solve SABC crisis’

2009-06-09 00:00

I’LL bet that if you took a class of Grade 3 school kids and gave each one a pencil, paper and a calculator, in-between second break and home time, they would easily be able to provide conclusive mathematical evidence that the SABC’s mandate from Parliament is unachievable. Pie in the sky.

Not long after 1994, the SABC was told by Parliament that, in a nutshell, it has to broadcast in all 11 languages, provide education programmes for the masses, reach almost impossible and very expensive local content targets and use the absolute latest digital technology, as well as a mountain of other stuff.

And it had to pay for all of this out of its own pocket — from licence fees that people weren’t paying and advertising rates it kept having to drop because marketers rejected the exorbitant prices SABC was charging.

Look at it another way. If the SABC was a government-owned bank, it would be told that it had to provide home-loan money to every single person in South Africa who is homeless, regardless of whether they could pay it back or not.

It would not be allowed to charge interest. It would also have to have all credit cards, cheque books, statements, and Internet banking sites carrying all 11 languages.

It would be allowed to charge rich people interest on loans and ludicrously high fees for just about everything.

Call in that Grade 3 class and even they would be able to calculate very quickly that the rate of interest that rich people would have to be charged in order to fund houses for the poor would be monumentally higher than what private sector banks were offering.

That bank would technically go bust, but like the SABC and South African Airways (SAA), it would be kept alive to continue providing second-rate service through massive bailouts by taxpayers.

I reckon it’s time that Parliament starts getting real about what the SABC can and cannot do. It needs to stop playing the SABC like a political shuttlecock. It’s insane.

There we had Parliament appointing a new board and Thabo Mbeki a new chair, and then within weeks of Polokwane, Parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the same board it enthusiastically appointed a few months earlier.

So, one can see why the existing board has been breaking up with resignations right, left and centre, and the chair demoted. It didn’t have a hope in hell of working.

And the people I feel sorry for are those honest staffers and managers trying to do the best they can in a situation that isn’t too far removed from the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland.

The SABC is now in crippling debt and its programming pedestrian at best.

But what irks me most is that all this political power play and setting of pie-in-the-sky goals and objectives is starting to cost the taxpayers big time. SABC wants a R2 billion bailout from us.

And I am not sure how much longer the taxpayers are going to put up with having to bail out parastatals like SABC and SAA.

If e-tv can make money out of broadcasting without even getting a cent of those licence fees and having to face the same regulations as SABC regarding local content and languages, then there is no reason why SABC can’t do the same. The difference is e-tv is run by business people and not politicians or board members, many of whom are there just because it looks good on their CVs.

I have been commenting on SABC affairs for the past 45 years and yesterday when I had a chat to some Grade 3 kids, they unanimously agreed with me that SABC’s problem is that it has been trying to reach for the sky without its feet anywhere near the ground.

Which, said one of the kids, means that all you achieve is to keep falling on your arse.

— News 24.

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