The “SOS: Support Public Broadcasting” Coalition has issued a statement on the deteriorating situation at the SABC and the possible collapse of the board.
SOS draws attention to reports in the press that Minister of Communications, Siphiwe Nyanda has been requested to amend the SABC’s articles of association so that an acting CEO can be chosen from outside the organisation to replace Robin Nicholson, the current chief financial officer. The Minister also previously expressed his concern about the appointment of Nicholson.
The decision to review the SABC’s articles of association ostensibly to allow for the appointment of an external candidate is flawed on a number of grounds, SOS states.
“First, we believe that the reversal of the board’s initial decision to appoint Mr. Nicholson is creating further instability at the SABC. A situation the institution can ill afford,” says SOS spokesperson Kate Skinner.
“Second, it gives the impression that the board did not consider the impact of this reported latest decision but rather responded to shareholder pressure (in contravention of corporate governance principles). If it did, it calls into question whether or not board members sufficiently applied their minds when taking the initial decision.
“Third, although we believe that the articles of association should be reviewed to bring them in line with constitutional principles and the new Company Act and King Codes among others, we are concerned that the latest board proposal seems to indicate a piece meal approach to the articles rather than the necessary thorough, open and comprehensive review clearly required.” Skinner went on to say that this state of affairs could bring the SABC’s reputation into further disrepute.
SOS believes that the articles of association need to strengthen the SABC’s institutional autonomy so as to prevent Ministerial intervention in the operations of the SABC, a key safeguard for editorial and programming independence.
These problems are partly due to the failure of oversight by Parliament, says Skinner. Parliament has thus far failed to examine an apparent breach of law by some board members in unilaterally appointing a head of news.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee has said it will resume a public hearing on the SABC on 19 October 2010.
“The lack of clear oversight is further evidenced by the fact that Parliament has yet to initiate a process to replace resigned board members,” says Skinner. “Board member Barbara Masekela resigned in July 2010 and Magatho Mello in early August. Members have a three month notice period in which Parliament is mandated to replace them. It appears that Ms. Masekela’s notice period is almost over.”
Skinner says that in order for board members to deliver on their mandate which includes meaningful content for SABC audiences, they require support to act decisively which will also entail accountability for their actions.
“The ongoing challenges faced by the SABC make it urgent that the role of the oversight structures is reviewed as well in their handling of the various crises at the SABC.”
Footnote: The “SOS: Support Public Broadcasting” Coalition represents a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA and BEMAWU; independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); and a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.