South Africa: Broadcasting Amendment Bill 'Still Unworkable'


The battle to 'save' the SABC's soul continues unabated and has entered a crucial phase. Towards the end of last week, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) held its deliberations on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, which could be soon adopted by the National Assembly and signed into law by President Kgalema Motlanthe. Yet the 'Save our SABC' coalition believes that that bill is still unworkable.

However, 'Save our SABC' coalition coordinator Kate Skinner told last week, Monday, 20 October 2008, that while the coalition welcomes the new developments, it believes that the bill is still unworkable and could fail to resolve the current crises if certain clauses, which plunged the SABC into crisis in the first place, are not amended.

Skinner said, "We will be sending a letter to Ismael Vadi, the chair of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications (PCC), to object to certain proposals to amend the Broadcasting Amendment Bill as suggested by the NCOP. She said the problems include appointments procedures, failures to distinguish between executive and non-executive to the board and the lack of criteria for the interim board.

The coalition is made up, among others, of organisations such as the Media Monitoring Project (MMP), Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Cosatu, National Consumer Forum, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), Wits' Prof Anton Harber and Tawana Kupe.

Skinner explained, "We are happy to see that the NCOP has, in line with our submission, made amendments to the quorum clauses in the Broadcasting Act of 1999, which stipulated that a quorum was nine members of the board.

"However, the interim board at full strength was only eight members. Without amendments to the quorum clauses the interim board would not have been able to sit. The quorum clause has now been amended to include a quorum of six members for the interim board. "But there are still problems areas which the NCOP did not address, and the proposed amendments in fact make it easier to dissolve the SABC board - limiting due process in such event."

The coalition said that one of the major gaps in the bill is that it does not include provisions for the appointment of executive members to the board. "Following international best practice, we believe that the non-executive members of the board should appoint the executive members (rather than in consultation with the minister of communications as is the current practice)," Skinner stated.

The public broadcaster, which has come under fire for claiming to have performed financially well for 2007/8, has had a troubled year, fomented by internal power struggles, backstabbings, favouritism, lost broadcasting sports rights, political meddling, dodgy suspensions, court cases, legal threats, revolutions and counter-revolutions. The Bill is due to return to the PCC tomorrow, Wednesday 22 October, for final amendments.

Biz-Community (Cape Town) 21 October 2008