SABC says competitors gain unfair advantage from its reporting to Parliament

Investment

The South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC’s) chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, said that its accounting to Parliament is giving its competitors the upper hand and has called on MPs to afford the public broadcaster an opportunity to table its strategies behind closed doors.

A delegation from the embattled corporation, including its under-fire chairwoman Zandile Tshabalala and Mr Motsoeneng, appeared before Parliament’s communications portfolio committee on Tuesday to present the third quarter report, which showed that viewership numbers continued to decline and revenue from licence fees remained under pressure.

The SABC remains in the spotlight after the controversial permanent appointment of Mr Motsoeneng as chief operating officer earlier this year. A probe by the public protector found that he had lied about having a matric, purged senior staff and irregularly increased his own and certain staff members’ salaries. The public protector recommended he be disciplined. The Democratic Alliance (DA) has challenged his appointment in court. Ms Tshabalala’s position is also under question and she is facing suspension following allegations that she also lied about her qualifications. The communications portfolio committee is to table a motion in the National Assembly on Wednesday that would recommend to President Jacob Zuma that Ms Tshabalala be suspended, pending an inquiry into her qualifications.

Mr Motsoeneng appeared unperturbed on Tuesday despite the controversies surrounding the SABC. He said while the broadcaster was happy to share "its trade secrets" with MPs, it would only be fair to do so behind closed doors.

"Our competitors are here as we speak and they are busy taking notes … we cannot be presenting in an open platform," Mr Motsoeneng said.

He said the SABC was "actually doing very well on the audience share side". Though the third quarter report showed that the SABC TV platforms have delivered an audience share of 48% against a target of 53% for the period under review, Mr Motsoeneng raised issue with the methodology used by South African Audience Research Foundation, saying rural audiences had not been taken into account.

"Every day, the SABC audiences are more than 26-million. This is huge. We are doing very well on the audience share side," Mr Motsoeneng said.

But Economic Freedom Fighters MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said it was "clear that the SABC was struggling with numbers". Mr Ndlozi also took issue with Mr Motsoeneng’s request for the SABC to table some of its documents behind closed doors in future.

"Mr Motsoeneng must not complain about accounting to Parliament, otherwise he must leave (the SABC) … I will be happy to see you go," Mr Ndlozi said.

Earlier, Ms Tshabalala, also raised concern about the requirement that the SABC table some of its documents in an open session, saying this gave its competitors an unfair advantage. Ms Tshabalala also pointed out that the SABC funding model remained problematic. She said that the SABC was promised 60% public funding, yet it only gets 3%, which was not in step with the needs of a public broadcaster.

"About 86% funding comes from advertisers. It cannot be right. This puts the SABC in a precarious position and constrains its ability to relay the messages that government wants it to relay … most of the (public) broadcasters internationally are funded (by government) 100% or 80% … it differs from country to country," Ms Tshabalala said.

She said the bad publicity the SABC had received in recent times was scaring away potential business partners. She seemed to blame opposition MPs for this.

"The tarnishing of the image of the SABC by some members is so bad that the businesses who want to partner with us (are not) … that is the sad part".

Ms Tshabalala said a permanent CEO was set to be appointed in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, presenting the third quarter report, acting CEO Tian Olivier said total revenue of about R2.1bn for the period under review was R143m, or 7%, higher than budget. Mr Olivier said year on year total revenue had increased by R494m or 10%. This was higher than the previous year’s growth of 4%.

Source: BD Live 16 Septmber 2014