SABC needs new board, new policies, new minister - R2K

Cape Town – The Right2Know (R2K) campaign has told Parliament's inquiry into the fitness of the SABC board that the public broadcaster needs not only a new board, but also new mechanisms and a new communications minister to report to.

R2K's Micah Reddy told the ad hoc committee on Wednesday that its scope might be limited in terms of bringing about the change the SABC actually needs.

The broadcaster is at risk of repeating the current crisis engulfing it if underlying mechanisms are not addressed, he said.

"The crisis we have seen is plainly unprecedented," Reddy told the ad hoc committee.

"We think this deserves an emergency response, which includes public participation. It may even mean going back to the drawing board.

Reddy listed what R2K believes is needed to breathe new life into the SABC.

This included:
- Addressing the "extraordinary powers" of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi;
- Ensuring the board is reconstituted through a transparent process;
- A public participation process to review the SABC charter;
- The removal of Hlaudi Motsoeneng from the broadcaster;
- An end to censorship policies, and revising editorial policies in the SABC newsroom; and
- Strengthening editorial independence at the SABC.

'Muthambi unfit to be minister'

"Part of the problem with the SABC at the moment is because Mr Motsoeneng has such unrivalled control of editorial content. And through him the state and the ministry has unacceptable levels of control over content," Reddy said.

He said Muthambi's amendment of the company's memorandum of incorporation in 2014 gave her undue influence over governance at the SABC.

"Her conduct has seriously damaged the broadcaster and media freedom, and she is not suitable for her position.

"The amendment gave two individuals unprecedented power at the SABC, and we describe this as state capture."

He also said a possible solution would be to review the SABC's charter periodically, as is done at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and stressed that the process needs to be public. The BBC received more than 220 000 public submissions in its last review.

The board meanwhile has been called to the CCMA in 190 matters in the past two years, he said.

Reddy said they were also particularly alarmed by the reported involvement of the State Security Agency in staff matters.

He said the broadcaster has some of the best journalists, but the worst management in the country.

He also asked the inquiry to call before it trade unions Bemawu (Broadcasting, Electronic, Media & Allied Workers Union) and Mwasa (Media Workers Association of South Africa), which represent workers directly affected at the SABC.

Motsoeneng acted 'in bad faith'

Reddy said during the time of a R2K-organised protest against SABC censorship policies in June this year, he was contacted by various current and former staff members who spoke of "a pervasive climate of fear for anyone who did not want to tow the Hlaudi line".

Eight journalists who raised concerns about censorship at the broadcaster, the so-called SABC 8, were suspended following their participation in the protests, sparking further outrage.

Thereafter, R2K arranged a meeting with Motsoeneng at the SABC headquarters in Johannesburg.

"During this meeting, we demanded the immediate reinstatement of the SABC journalists. Mr Motsoeneng tried to distance himself from the decision, saying it was an HR decision.

"His intention to evade any responsibility was disingenuous. It is highly likely he was involved in their suspensions."

Another meeting was set up to discuss the SABC 8 returning to work, but Reddy said Motsoeneng acted in bad faith.

"Shortly before the meeting, we received a phone call where he [Motsoeneng] basically said the meeting was off, he had made up his mind and there was nothing to talk about."

The Labour Court eventually overturned the SABC 8's dismissals in July, and seven of them returned to work. The eighth was a contracted employee, and his contract had expired.

"To date, there has been no full accounting [about] who was behind this flagrant abuse of rights, and the reasons for the reversal."

MPs thanked the R2K campaign for galvanising civil society to participate in protests on the issue.

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