Revenue collection methods make up a major part of the turnaround strategy at the SABC.
This is what the portfolio committee on communication in Parliament heard on Tuesday, when members of the SABC board set out their plan of action to the committee. The department of communications was represented by deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana. Communications Minister Nomvula Mokonyane was unavailable as she was on sick leave. It was earlier reported in the meeting that she was helping with the funeral arrangements for Edna Molewa. The environmental affairs minister died this weekend, and her official memorial service was scheduled for next Wednesday.
Kekana called on the nation to help the SABC with its strategy, saying that the main source of revenue income is generated from the paying of TV licences, which “hasn’t been happening”.
“We know that the main revenue stream around the SABC has been [the] paying of TV licences. And that has not been happening for quite some time. Whatever movie or soapie you see, and all other activities, it means we must pay 76 cents a day as viewers and that has not been happening,” Kekana said.
She said that if the licences were not paid, “the SABC will be worse off financially”.
The strategy is being mainly aimed at paying its unpaid bills – which, City Press reported in May – totalled a whopping R100 million. At the time, one source said that the state broadcaster was “living week to week, hand to mouth”, as there were no reserves. It is also aimed at bringing the SABC out of the red, after posting continuous losses.
In May, City Press also reported that 26 officials from the license collections department at the SABC had been fired. The SABC denied this.
In 2017, the SABC had reported almost a R1 billion loss after tax for the 2016/17 financial year.
In March this year, the loss was significantly lower – recorded at R622 million – but the concerns around the financial standing have not lessened.
Despite its ongoing financial woes, the SABC has had a string of loose ends, including its strategy to move the quality of channels being broadcast from Standard Definition (SD) to that of Higher Definition (HD). the SABC had previously missed the 2015 deadline set by the International Telecommunication Union to switch from SD to HD. But in June this year the switch finally happened and a 2019 goal was set in place to move over all analogue TV sets to HD viewing.
The strategy also involves mass job cuts, as a bulk of the income revenue generated by the SABC goes towards salaries and wages. This amounts to R3.1 billion (42% of total expenditure) going towards the costs of employees, which communications minister Nomvula Mokonyane has strongly opposed.
The minister said last week that the retrenchments should be “as a last resort”, and that it was “inconsistent with the principles of good corporate governance‚ mutual interest and public good”.
But despite Mokonyane’s objections to the retrenchments, which stand to see hundreds of workers losing their jobs, SABC board chair Bongumusa Makhathini said that the strategy was aimed at doing what’s best for the corporation, including cutting back on overheads such as salaries.
In its submissions for a turnaround, SABC head of TV Nomsa Philiso said that the SABC was working according to an unsustainable model because “80% of its revenue comes from 20% of its prime time”.
She also spoke of the decline in audiences and how, with the introduction of new content offering, the SABC hoped to regain lost viewers. Some of the suggestions she put forward were more “self-help” centred content, as well as an interactive Parliamentary channel which would have presenters provide analysis to its viewers.
“We are also very aware that we cannot continue to operate a linear platform, we do need to start that all of our properties can live beyond the linear platform,” she said.
This article was amended on September 26 to correctly reflect Philiso's position and to correct the reason for Minister Mokonyane's absence from the meeting.