South Africa’s “SOS: Support Public Broadcasting’ Coalition welcomes Parliament’s announcement that all SABC Board vacancies have now been filled. Four board members resigned in 2010 including former SABC board deputy chair Felleng Sekha, and members Barbara Masekela, David Niddrie, and Makgatho Mello. Four new board members have now been selected – Safcol senior executive, Dr Sethe Makesha; businessman, John Danana; advocate and business consultant, Cawekazi Mahlati; and Media Development and Diversity Agency CEO, Lumko Mtimde. The Coalition appreciates the new skills and experience that these board members collectively bring to the SABC.
The Coalition believes that the SABC needs to represent the interests of all geographical communities and communities of interest and the widest possible range of political, economic and social perspectives. In terms of this mandate it would have been ideal if there had been a broad consensus from all political parties on all candidates. This has not been the case. Also, SOS members have noted the fact that as a collective, new board members appear to represent more business interests rather than worker / community interests. However, despite this situation the Coalition believes that going forward we need as civil society to give the SABC Board our support to deliver on the enormous tasks at hand. The board now needs to be judged on its delivery to the public.
SOS believes that the serious challenges facing the SABC include, but are not limited to, the implementation of a new public service vision for the SABC and ensuring that the SABC’s critical turnaround strategy is aligned with this vision. The Coalition believes strongly that the delivery of cutting-edge, quality, citizen-orientated, local programming needs to be placed at the centre of this vision. The turnaround strategy must ensure that while the SABC’s serious financial challenges are addressed the SABC’s ability to produce quality programming is not further undermined but in fact significantly enhanced.
The Coalition notes with concern that much of the existing programming work that was put out to tender in mid 2010 has been stalled due to attempts to cut production budgets. In addition the new set of briefs which the Board committed to publishing in December 2010 has not materialised. These issues need to be urgently addressed. Further, the Coalition notes the increasing bias of programming on the SABC towards urban, middle class audiences and away from marginalised poor, rural, unemployed and working class audiences. The Coalition notes that these audiences are traditionally marginalised by the media system as a whole and thus need to be particularly catered for by our public broadcaster. This too needs to be urgently addressed.
Finally, the Coalition notes the fact that 2011 promises to be a significant year for public service broadcasting. The Minister of Communications has promised to review the Broadcasting White Paper, 1998; to ensure the alignment of broadcasting policy, legislation and regulations and to conduct a comprehensive economic modelling exercise of the SABC. We believe that the SABC Board must play a key role in shaping and driving this process.
The SOS Coalition believes that the new fully capacitated SABC board should be held to account by civil society in terms of dealing with these challenges.
The SOS Coalition represents a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA, BEMAWU and MWASA; 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.