The SABC needs more money for its public mandate - MPs agree

The state must provide more funds for the SABC to fulfil its public mandate, MPs said after the public broadcaster presented its turnaround strategy to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications on Tuesday.

The strategy, which MPs welcomed, acknowledged that the SABC was "facing significant financial challenges and fierce competition on both legacy and digital platforms on a daily basis".

"The corporation must be carefully managed and restored in order to fulfil its unique public mandate," read the presentation by SABC board chairperson Bongumusa Makhathini and his team.

"To deliver on this public service mandate, [the] SABC requires long-term financial sustainability. Extensive oversight and analysis have been completed to determine where the problems lie and what needs to be done."

"[The] SABC can be financially viable and sustainable on the basis of a strengthened, mixed funding model. This will require significant organisational changes and, at the same time, the creation of a conducive policy, regulatory and legislative environment."

READ: Mokonyane opposed to possible retrenchments at the SABC

The SABC currently receives a small part of its budget from a government grant but has a legislated duty to broadcast certain types of content which aren't necessarily determined by commercial objectives.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme suggested that the SABC should focus on their commercial mandate "because that is where the money is". 

"I believe your public mandate should be funded by government."

She added that the SABC's policy should include a clear definition of what the public mandate was so that there wasn't room for political interference.

UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa pointed out that, "if the public mandate remains unfunded, you're always going to have a cash flow problem".

ANC MP Bongani Bongo also spoke and pointed out that the committee needed to take responsibility on the public mandate.

Committee chairperson Humphrey Maxegwana said the committee would push to ensure more funding for the SABC.

The committee also heard that the SABC had a wage bill of R3.1bn, which was 42% of the total expenditure of R7.3bn.

Responding to this, ANC MP Lerumo Kalako said: "There is no way the SABC can continue out of this crisis if it continues to spend the bulk of its money on its wage bill."

However, the committee agreed to let the process, in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, unfold before making pronouncements about it.

SABC board member Jack Phahlane said the Section 189 process was to engage employees in finding a solution. 

READ: Motsoeneng's 'reckless mismanagement' caused SABC's problems - Sanef

Some members of the committee expressed their concern about the inflated number of managers at the SABC, believed to be an effect of former COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng's flouting of the recruitment and salary policy.

Earlier, in introducing the SABC contingent, Deputy Minister of Communications Pinky Kekana emphasised the importance of the payment of television licences to turn the SABC around.

"I want to make it plain to South African citizens, the SABC cannot turnaround without your help. For those of us with television sets, you must know that the content we view costs us 72 cents a day," she said.

"This 72 cents a day helps the SABC create jobs for numerous South Africans. Without our small contribution, the SABC remains poorer and worse off financially. In essence, paying our TV licences does not only save the SABC, it saves many South African families from unemployment."

After the meeting, Maxegwana said in a statement that a follow-up meeting with the board should be arranged to get a progress report with regard to the implementation of the roadmap. 

"The strategic roadmap has highlighted some critical aspects which could bring about positive results. However, the issue of Section 189 should be approached with due diligence and be concluded expeditiously in order to restore certainty among the workers," Maxegwana said.

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