Broadcasting bill brings separation of powers under spotlight

Cape Town – The broadcasting amendment bill will bypass Parliament’s role in making SABC board appointments, MPs heard on Tuesday.

Economic Freedom Fighters MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the communications department was essentially asking Parliament to "delete" its role in appointing people to the public broadcaster's board.

He said leaving it to the minister and president to appoint and remove non-executive board members was problematic, as both were part of the executive.

"Asking us to eliminate ourselves as Parliament - that’s the centrepiece of the proposal. And it’s problematic because of the separation of powers," he said.

The communications portfolio committee was debating the bill, after the department’s acting Director General Norman Munzhelele outlined some of the amendments.

They include replacing the National Assembly’s role in the appointment and removal of SABC board members.

It gives the communications minister power to appoint a committee to make recommendations for the appointment of non-executive board members. It gives the president more power to remove non-executive board members.

Ndlozi said the minister and the president were essentially one person in the context of the Constitution.

Public participation

"In fact, at the end we no longer have a public broadcaster, we have a company of the state. Maybe even of the minister," he said.

He questioned the need for a separate body to appoint the non-executive members, and asked whether this brought into question Parliament’s capabilities.

The department assured the committee it respected the doctrine of the separation of powers. It said that, according to legal opinion it had received, the bill’s constitutionality was not in question.

Democratic Alliance MP Phumzile Van Damme called for public participation in the process. The DA had raised concerns that the bill could see the last bit of independence removed from the public broadcaster.

Earlier in the day, MPs discussed whether debate on the bill was sub judice.

Ndlozi called for clarity on the matter as the powers of the minister were currently before the courts.

The communications minister’s powers are part of an ongoing case involving the Save Our SABC coalition and others. This followed the board's decision last year to get rid of three board members, a move endorsed by Minister Faith Muthambi.

The meeting continued.

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