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South Africa: Sign Broadcasting Bill, Coalition Urges Motlanthe

'Save our SABC Campaign' Coalition spokeswoman Kate Skinner has come out in support of the ruling ANC, urging President Kgalema Motlanthe to sign the Broadcasting Amendment Bill as soon as possible. The Star newspaper reported yesterday, Thursday 15 January 2009, that the ANC was unhappy with the president for delaying to sign the bill into law.

"Yes, the president needs to sign the Broadcasting Amendment Bill as soon as possible so that an investigation of the SABC board could start right away," Skinner told Bizcommunity.com last night.

Asked if that investigation might lead to the entire SABC board being fired, Skinner replied: "At this stage, it is difficult to say whether certain members would go or the entire board will be removed.

"What it is critical here is that this investigation must be conducted in a proper and fair manner to avoid a situation whereby a so-called Mbeki-friendly board is removed and only to be replaced by a so-called Zuma-friendly board. "We want a board that represents and serves the interests of the whole nation."

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) executive director William Bird echoed Skinner's sentiments, lending a rare support to the ruling party, which for the first time in post-apartheid politics faces an uphill election battle against Terror Lekota's Congress of the People (COPE).

"As a political party, the ANC is entitled to request the president to sign or not to sign various bills, so I don't think the ANC is doing anything improper," Bird said.

However, while applauding the ANC's move to pressure Motlanthe to sign the bill into law, Skinner heavily criticised the controversial bill, saying it is very narrowly focused on removals and it will fail to solve the thorny issues and problems affecting the public broadcaster to the core.

"This is not an SABC Bill, but it is the Broadcasting Amendment Bill," Skinner corrected.

"We need a much more comprehensive legislation (the SABC Act), something substantial that will help solve serious crises that the public broadcaster has been grappling with all these years.

She also said that a number of civil society organisations are busy putting together a proposal SABC bill to be presented to the Department of Communications (DoC) and various political parties in the near future.

"Removing the board won't take the SABC out of crisis. The issue of funding, for example, needs to be looked into. An organisation that is tasked to fulfill a public mandate needs adequate state funding."

Currently, the government's funding of the SABC stands at a mere 2%, forcing the corporation to enter the merciless and cut-throat commercial broadcasting 'hell' to seek additional revenues [see yesterday's Newswatch]. The 2007 ANC resolution, to recommend the Government to increase that funding to 60%, has since failed to materialise.

Furthermore, MMA's Bird deplored the Broadcasting Amendment Bill's failure to draw a distinction between executive and non-executive members of the SABC board - creating a great confusion over who appoints executive and non-executive members.

"Also equally concerning is that the current bill does not stipulate a criteria of an interim board, which could do all it can to help restore credibility of the SABC if their criteria for appointment is not clear or is subject to the same criteria that resulted in some members of the current board being discredited.

"It seems unlikely that the current bill will resolve any of the current crises and will only serve to remove the current board," Bird concluded.

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