SABC’s R256 million loss due to revenue 'issues'

James Aguma.Picture: Felix Dlangamandla
James Aguma.Picture: Felix Dlangamandla

The SABC is staring yet another loss in the face for the current financial year after notching up a net loss of R256 million for the second quarter (July to September 2016).

The public broadcaster recorded a net loss of R411 million in the 2015-2016 financial year.

James Aguma, acting chief executive of the SABC, addressed Parliament’s portfolio committee on communication on Tuesday.

The ad hoc committee that was investigating the SABC uncovered several “questionable” business transactions, but Aguma defended the contracts awarded by the SABC in December and said it was done to “aggressively” take the broadcaster into the digital age.

Later he said the SABC needed to be “clever” to increase its income, and part of this was to move to digital news offerings.

In the first quarter (April to June 2016) of the current financial year, the SABC reported a net loss of R178 million, he said.

“We didn’t receive as much advertising income as we expected,” said Aguma.

He explained that the SABC had changed its advertising system and not all the advertisements that were screened were added to the system. These accounts were only sent to advertisers in the following quarter.

However, the SABC had managed to raise about R120 million in advertising income, of which “our previous operations officer” – how Aguma constantly referred to his controversial predecessor Hlaudi Motsoeneng – raised R15 million for election coverage.

In the second quarter, Aguma said “there were a lot of challenges”, “media attention” and a “fluttering” . It was during this period that Motsoeneng’s decisions peaked with dismissals of journalists (which were reversed), and an order that saw his policy that prohibited the broadcast of violent protests, reversed.

Despite this, said Aguma, the SABC did “what it always did and delivered successful election coverage”.

ANC MP Moses Tseli, who had served on this committee before various ANC members of the committee were replaced, agreed with him.

“You have indeed delivered successful local government elections.”

Aguma ascribed the loss in the second quarter to income that was lower than was budgeted for. The reason for this was that the SABC had to clear its database for television licences and deleted many people who didn’t have to pay for licences any more, and the new programme of collecting licences wasn’t bearing fruit yet.

The broadcaster’s cash balance improved by more than R200 million from the first quarter, to R660.5 million in the second.

“Revenue, as I’ve said, we have issues with that,” said Aguma.

The word “issues” was used as a synonym for “problems” during the meeting.

Earlier, Aguma presented the 2015-2016 financial report to the committee.

The committee was especially concerned over the irregular expenditure and fruitless and wasteful expenditure which was R5.1 billion. The R5.1 billion included amounts in those categories that had been incurred in the previous financial years.

Aguma used the word “issues” regularly. There were “historical issues” and there was an issue that the SABC’s policies weren’t in line with the law in some instances, and staff member carried out the policies in good faith, thus breaking the law.

He promised that the organisation was busy dealing with this “issue” and that the guilty parties would be held accountable.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, against whom the ad hoc committee made damning findings, did not come to the meeting.

She was in Soshanguve with President Jacob Zuma. The ad hoc committee recommended that Zuma should reconsider her position in Cabinet.

The parties on the committee also listed their nominations for the interim SABC board, with the ANC nominating among others veteran journalist and former City Press editor Mathatha Tsedu and two former SABC board members Krish Naidoo and Rachel Kalidass, both of whom delivered critical testimony in front of the ad hoc committee.

The DA nominated among others the Isidingo actor Jack Devnarain, who is also chairperson of the South African Guild of Actors, and John Mattison, a journalist who served at the SABC during its transition to a public broadcaster.

Jan Gerber
Parliamentary journalist
City Press
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