‘Save our SABC’ Campaign Welcomes Progress on the SABC Crisis

Wednesday, 3 September, 2008 - 10:58

The ‘Save our SABC’ campaign is part of the activities of a civil society coalition established in June 2008 to help resolve the crisis at the SABC.

Formed as a response to the crisis facing the SABC, the ‘Save our SABC’ campaign is part of the activities of a civil society coalition established in June 2008 to help resolve the crisis. A working group comprising the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI); Media Monitoring Project (MMP); Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); National Consumers Forum; Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU); and a number of individuals including Justine Limpitlaw (a legal academic), Professor Tawana Kupe (Dean of Humanities at Wits University) and Jeanette Minnie (a freedom of expression activist) is driving the campaign.

A key action of the working group after the inception of the Coalition was to involve other organisations including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).

At that point the Coalition resolved to:

  • draft a position paper outlining the crisis and some immediate solutions;
  • draft recommendations on an SABC Act including ownership, structure, character and appointment of the Board, funding, Charter etc.;
  • call on the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications to exercise its constitutionally mandated oversight role effectively;
  • follow-up on the FXI Blacklisting complaint; and
  • initiate the formation of a civil society coalition to campaign for the strengthening of public broadcasting.

The Coalition held its first working group meeting on 1 July 2008 to discuss its plan of action, rules for the ‘Save our SABC’ Campaign and other issues. By this time, COSATU spokesperson Patrick Craven had already been drawn into the Working Group.

Between the date of the launch of the Campaign and the first working group meeting, an important new development took place: the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications tabled the Draft Broadcasting Act Amendment Bill to provide for the removal of a member of the SABC Board and the dissolution of the Board as a whole.

The purpose of the proposed legislation was to deal with the fact that the Broadcasting Act did not provide a mechanism for the SABC Board to be dissolved. The Act only provided for the removal of individual members of the Board upon the recommendation of the Board itself.

The Campaign set to work to deal with these issues.

Written Submissions to Parliament

The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications set exceptionally tight deadlines for public comment. Written submissions were to be submitted by 25 July and the oral hearings were to be held on the 5 and 6 August 2008. The Committee hoped to pass the Bill and have it signed into law by the middle of September 2008.

Despite the deadlines a detailed written submission (link to submission)was delivered on 25 August, endorsed by 12 organisations covering a diversity of interests and perspectives. The organisations included all those represented on the working group as well as IDASA, the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), SANGONET, the South African History Archives (SAHA), the Freedom of Expression Network (FXN) and the Independent Producers Organisation (IPO).

The submission included the following:

  • A brief analysis on the challenges facing public broadcasting
  • A call for an inclusive, public, consultative process to draft a Green Paper / White Paper leading to the promulgation of a new SABC Act. (The Coalition argued that a piecemeal approach to legislative changes would not solve the SABC crisis in the long term.)
  • A set of arguments about the problems surrounding the narrowness of the focus of the Committee’s proposals. (The Bill’s focus was specifically on removal of board members.)
  • A set of proposals regarding the appointment procedures to ensure greater public participation and transparency and a set of clauses to deal with the appointment of executive members to the Board, presently a gap in the Broadcasting Act.
  • A set of proposals regarding qualification clauses to ensure board members are committed to freedom of expression, are broadly representative of South African society and its various interest groups and have the necessary qualifications and experience.
  • A set of wide-ranging disqualification and conflict of interest clauses to better safe-guard the independence of the SABC.
  • A set of proposals on the appointment of an interim board.

At this point in the drafting process, the Bill did not include clauses allowing for the removal of the SABC Board as a collective. The Board could only be removed on an individual-by-individual basis.

The Campaign endorsed the Committee’s proposals about the removal of board members. These clauses were copied from clauses dealing with the removal of board members of Chapter Nine institutions.

Oral Submission to Parliament

The Coalition presented a detailed Bill containing all its proposals at the oral hearings. This main presentation was supplemented by presentations from a number of Coalition partners. The MMP looked more closely at the nomination process; FXI highlighted issues surrounding the SABC’s Articles of Association and its impact on the independence of the SABC and the IPO detailed the impact of the ongoing SABC crisis on content issues. These presentations were well received. The Coalition’s proposal was considered one of the few that dealt directly with the Committee’s concerns. MPs called for a more formal relationship with the Campaign saying they believed we had significant information and experience to share.

Deliberations on the Draft Broadcasting Act Amendment Bill

The deliberations on the Bill were split between a day of informal deliberations held on 7 August and a morning of formal deliberations on 12 August 2008. The Coalition was invited to attend the informal deliberations. At the formal deliberation stage however a set of new proposals were tabled.

These included:

  • The definition of the “appointing body” was changed so that the appointing body was no longer the President but the “President acting in consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly”;
  • A new set of clauses were added to allow the Board as a collective to be dissolved;
  • A new section was added to facilitate the resignation of Board members.

These proposals were adopted by the Committee and the National Assembly. After debate and discussion the Coalition agreed that progress had been made in terms of the Bill – the removal clauses of individual board members were seen as positive, as were the new resignation clauses. Further, there had been a number of positive shifts in terms of setting up of the interim board. Members were now to be appointed by Parliament rather by the President.

However a number of issues remained problematic including:

  • The new definition of the “appointing body”
  • Some of the criteria for the removal of the board in its entirety
  • The criteria for appointment of interim board members

It was agreed that the Coalition would take these up with the National Council of Provinces. Hearings have been set for 11 and 12 September 2008.

Impact of the SOS Campaign on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill

The Campaign’s impact on the Bill has been important. Further, there are indications that MPs are prepared to consider a broader Green Paper / White Paper process leading to the drafting of a comprehensive new SABC Act. To date the Campaign has achieved the following:

  • It has built a coalition of active members including trade unions, civil society organisations, NGOs, academic institutions, training institutions and content producers. Most recently the Treatment Action Campaign has joined.
  • The Coalition has gained respect through being an active disseminator of information and updates on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill to a wide audience of organisations and individuals.
  • It has received positive press coverage.
  • The Portfolio Committee welcomed the formation of the Campaign and asked for the setting up of a more formal relationship.
  • COSATU welcomed the formation of the Campaign and asked if its mandate could be extended to look at media issues more broadly 
  • The Campaign has won significant support across civil society to run a consultative Green Paper / White Paper process leading to the drafting of a new SABC Act.
Related articles: 
Broadcasting Amendment Bill (B72 - 2008)

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