...on the Passage of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill
25 November 2008
The “Save our SABC” Campaign, representing key trade unions, NGOs, CBOs and independent producer organisations has been at the forefront of a campaign to address the crises at the public broadcaster, the SABC, for some months. In our view, many of the crises stem from omissions in the Broadcasting Act, which governs the SABC and also in the flawed political process of appointing the current SABC Board.
The Coalition’s position has been that there needs to be a three-pronged approach to dealing with the crises at the SABC.
• To pass a Broadcasting Amendment Bill which addresses the immediate crises which includes, among a number of issues, the appointment criteria and process for board members;
• To engage in a process of removing some or all of the current Board members in accordance with the right to administrative justice and to appoint an Interim Board in the public interest; and
• To embark on a thorough legislative review process culminating in the passage of an SABC Act that addresses a number of key issues.
The Broadcasting Amendment Bill:
The Broadcasting Amendment Bill attempts to deal with some of the omissions in the Broadcasting Act, in particular the removal of individual board members and the board as a collective. However the Coalition notes that the Broadcasting Amendment Bill is narrowly focused and addresses only a single issue with regard to the current SABC crises, namely removal of the Board or individual members thereof. In the Coalition’s view the fact that the Broadcasting Amendment Bill addresses this critical omission is to be welcomed. Unfortunately, however, the Broadcasting Amendment Bill is too narrow to address even the immediate crises completely.
Once the Bill has been signed into law and implemented, the following approaches need to be adopted:
• Removal of the Current Board and Appointment of the Interim Board
The Coalition wishes to place on record that it will be closely observing the process that Parliament is to embark on with regard to the removal of all or some Board members. In our view, it is critical that this process be beyond reproach. If due process (at the very least thorough investigation, proper notice, fair hearings, and an absence of bias) is not present, the entire removal process will not only be open to legal challenge but it will further give rise to public suspicion of on-going political interference at the SABC. Further, the Coalition wishes to place on record that it will also be observing the process of appointing the Interim Board (and indeed the new ordinary Board) closely. In our view, it is critical that this process, too, is beyond reproach. If the Interim and new ordinary Board members are not seen as being suitably qualified and appropriately independent of party political interests, this will give rise to public suspicion of on-going political interference at the SABC.
• Need for the Passage of an SABC Act
Given the narrow focus of the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, the passage of a new SABC Act is urgent. The Coalition is of the view that only a thoroughly revised SABC Act can address all of the ongoing crises at the SABC. However, this must be done with the fullest possible participation by the public, including by concerned civil society stakeholders.
The Coalition understands that the Department of Communications is in fact in the process of developing such a Bill. The Coalition would like to put it on record that such a process warrants the development of appropriate and carefully considered policy through a prior Green/White Paper process. We think it unfortunate that it appears that this might not happen. The Coalition nonetheless aims to be as prepared as possible to participate in all or any public processes around a new SABC Act and is to develop a thorough policy document addressing all of the key issues that require to be resolved urgently including:
o Improving the appointment criteria and process for board members
o Making a clear distinction between executive and non-executive board members, including in regard to appointments and removals
o Strengthening disqualification and conflict of interest provisions to safeguard the independence of the Board
o Providing for the removal of non-executive Board members by a Parliamentary process which requires due process
o Making provision for an interim board made up of suitably qualified people, appointed with the involvement of Parliament and which sits for a limited time period only.
For more information please contact:
Kate Skinner (Campaign Coordinator) – (082) 926-6404
Patrick Craven (Cosatu Spokesperson) – (082)821-7456
William Bird (Media Monitoring Project) - (082) 887-1370
Faiza Smith (Misa-SA) – (076) 995-9513