Union warns SABC’s survival in jeopardy

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It has emerged that an increase in SABC licence fees may be implemented in order to alleviate some of the financial burden that the corporation is facing. At a meeting last Wednesday 25 February between public broadcaster SABC’s chief financial officer, Robin Nicholson, and officials of the Broadcast Electronic Media and Allied Workers’ Union (BEMAWU), Nicholson told trade unionists that the SABC had approached Parliament for permission to increase licence fees.

BEMAWU, president, Hannes du Buisson, who was present at the meeting told the Mail & Guardian that Nicholson said the SABC was R700m in the red. This figure was denied by SABC spokespercon Kaizer Kganyago. In February, Nicholson was called by Parliament to give account for the financial crisis which as that time was estimated to be a deficit of R500m.

According to Du Buisson, plans were discussed with the SABC to rectify the dire situation. This included ceasing new recruitment unless absolutely necessary and an application to Parliament for permission to increase licence fees. It would appear that freelance budgets have already been cut but there would be no staff retrenchments.

"The SABC is currently in a R700-million deficit. Immediate plans to rectify the situation were discussed and the SABC will cease recruitment unless it is absolutely necessary to fill a position. The SABC will also make a recommendation to Parliament to increase TV licence fees," Du Buisson noted in a memo seen by the Mail & Guardian.

On Thursday Du Buisson also told the M&G that the corporation’s chief financial officer indicated that advertising revenue, which normally contributes about 85% of revenue, "was drastically down".

According to a circular email from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) which Screen Africa also received, a number of allegations by BEMAWU have been made which “paint a damning picture of greed and mismanagement at the SABC which could explain how the deficit built up”. Among the allegations are that senior management went to the Beijing Olympics on SABC cost and senior management have all received performance bonuses whilst “they have clearly not performed”.

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