On 10 June 2008 a significant grouping of NGOs, civil society organisations, trade unions, academics and journalists met to discuss the crisis at the SABC. At the end of the meeting a decision was taken to form a civil society coalition that would help to resolve some of the problems.
A working group was set up consisting of the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI); the Media Monitoring Project (MMP); the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); the National Consumers Forum; the Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU); and a number of high profile freedom of expression activists.
The working group undertook to bring a number of other organizations on board such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). The Coalition immediately resolved to do the following:
• 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 and rules for the Campaign. COSATU was immediately co-opted onto the working group.
On 4 July 2008 the Coalition was given a new and urgent task – commenting on a new Bill. Members of Parliament tabled a Draft Broadcasting Amendment Bill dealing with the removal of individual board members and the removal of the board as a collective. The working group moved swiftly to pull together a written and then an oral submission on the Bill. A Broadcasting Amendment Bill was then adopted by the National Assembly and immediately referred to the National Council of Provinces. Again, the Coalition drafted a detailed submission and presented this to the Select Committee. The NCOP will be deliberating on the Bill on 14 of October.
Further to this, the Coalition has been working on the “FXI Blacklisting Complaint”. Briefly, the “SABC Blacklisting Crisis” emerged in 2006 when allegations were made that the SABC was “blacklisting” anti-government political commentators. SABC GCEO, Dali Mpofu instigated the Sisulu Commission of Enquiry to investigate. The Commission made recommendations. However, these were not officially released to the public. The FXI then obtained a leaked copy of the report. The Institute laid a complaint with South Africa’s regulator the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) saying that the SABC was contravening the Constitution, the Broadcasting Act and its own editorial policies. It used information from the Commission to make these allegations. ICASA disallowed this. FXI is now gathering further evidence for its complaint. The “Save our SABC” Coalition is assisting in this regard.
And what next?
Campaigns for the short term include an advocacy campaign calling for a Green Paper / White Paper process leading to the promulgation of a comprehensive, well conceived SABC Act. Linked to this the Coalition is also working on a proposal to get grass roots comment on the SABC’s Charter.