Thursday, July 9, 2009

Interim Board problems and a way forward for the new permanent Board

Save our SABC: Reclaiming our Public Broadcaster

Interim Board problems and a way forward for the new permanent Board

The “Save our SABC” (SOS) Coalition believes it is unfortunate that the process around the selection of the new interim Board has become so fraught. During Parliamentary debates on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, SOS repeatedly stated that criteria were needed for the interim Board. In Parliamentary hearings we in fact put forward a number of criteria including the fact that the interim Board should include a corporate governance expert, a financial expert, a broadcasting attorney or academic and representatives from labour and civil society organizations. Despite our best lobbying efforts however Parliament ignored this advice. No criteria were in fact included in the final legislation.

Also, at the time, various SOS members expressed their discomfort around the fact that the selection of the interim board was not a public process. We however were convinced by Parliament that because of the urgency of putting the interim Board in place and the fact that the interim Board would sit for a limited period only (i.e. a maximum of six months) we should forego a public process.

Given the context of no public process and no criteria, we had hoped that Parliament, as representative of the public, would be particularly mindful of the enormity of their task and would have sought to choose board members as a collective with both “hard” technical skills (including corporate governance, financial management and broadcasting expertise) but also a collective of people broadly acceptable to society at large including important constituency groupings and other political parties. It seems however that Parliament did not succeed in its duties here. Unfortunately the interim board as a collective does not enjoy this broad-based support. As Cosatu and the Young Communist League have argued the Board in particular lacks a labour perspective.

The issue is how to move forward from here. SOS believes that a number of lessons need to be learnt from this experience, the most important being that the SABC needs to be collectively owned and supported by its audiences it broadcasts. The selection of SABC boards needs to reflect this both in terms of process and composition. The process for the selection of the permanent SABC Board needs to start now. To gain public confidence SOS reiterates the importance of maximum public participation and maximum transparency.

In terms of maximum public participation, the call for SABC Board nominations need to be widely publicised (not only on tiny postage stamp adverts in newspapers!) but on full page adverts and on all stations on the national broadcaster. Further, the process of interviewing potential candidates for the Board needs to be on primetime television and radio slots with the public being encouraged to send in their questions. And in terms of transparency and public accountability - the names of nominators and nominees needs to be made public as well as the CVs of the nominees. Finally, to conclude the process, Parliamentarians need to put forward reasons why they selected a particular grouping of board members and how these board members fulfill both skills and representativity criteria as outlined in the Broadcasting Act. We believe an impeccable, transparent and public process will go along way to starting to right the myriad of problems plaguing our national broadcaster.

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