The State of Affairs at the SABC

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition is deeply concerned by the current state of affairs at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The coalition notes with disappointed its failed attempts to meet the SABC GCEO, Lulama Mokhobo. This significant meeting (as noted by Mokhobo’s personal assistant) has been rescheduled three times. On the agenda of the meeting the coalition had hoped to discuss these issues: the local content issues on SABC television, the 24-hour news channel, SABC DTT readiness, editorial policies update, turn-around strategy, financial situation of the public broadcaster and more.

This meeting is important to the coalition because the coalition believes that the SABC as a public broadcaster needs to be open, reliable, efficient and effective. The question then arises, how is the SABC a public broadcaster if it does not avail itself to the public for robust engagement and debate?

This particular toss and turn response that we are getting from the office of the GCEO further alarms us  as regards  the current state of affairs at the SABC. Last week it was announced that the SABC 24-hour news channel will be launched soon. This channel will first be available on DSTV and later be offered on digital terrestrial TV when the signal comes on. The coalition is concerned that the 24-hour news channel will show on DSTV excluding millions of South Africans that cannot afford subscription television. It is also not clear what DSTV’s involvement is in this 24-hour  channel. Further, there is another deal with DSTV that the coalition would  like clarity on, which is, the selling of the rights of their most popular soapies to DSTV. Again a question arises, why sell these rights? Especially at a time SABC is losing a lot of their viewers.

The SABC is also facing a major challenge in regard to its local content delivery on its television stations. Not all languages are represented. The only Sepedi drama on SABC right now is Bophelo Ke Semphego, this drama is over 25 years old and has been repeated countless times. This is a major challenge; the SABC is expected to produce new and exciting local drama that reflects the identities of all South Africans in the new democratic South Africa. The challenge is also that when SABC is under the gun to ensure minority language delivery, random projects are targeted for language delivery even if the language chosen bares no integral relationship to the editorial of the show. Surely there must be a sustained and robust policy of language delivery that ensures editorial integrity too?

Accordingly the SABC is expected to review its editorial guidelines every five years. The last review was in 2004, eight years ago. The coalition is told that the review is underway, through the 'mysabc' campaign. However the coalition is worried that the review is not widely publicised and the link between the 'mysabc' campaign and the review is not clear. We urge the SABC to make this review a transparent and participatory process.

The campaign would also like to engage the GCEO on the editorial vision for the public broadcaster, what actual programs can the CGEO imagine under her tenure? The prime business output for the SABC is public broadcast programming for the citizenry, yet there is little to no discussion, outside of the implementation of policies and procedures, on the elevated programming course she will be steering. We are also dismayed at the lack of in-depth conversation as to what may have gone wrong in programming to lose the audiences that SABC has. What editorial introspection has the SABC embarked upon? We are also dismayed to find that amongst senior management that may steer the editorial vision, very few have content as their core skill. The problem that we may face is an over prioritising of business processes and bureaucracy at the loss of an editorial soul. And we know that where audiences go will depend on who provides programming relevance, creativity and resonance.

If media reports are correct, the SABC has continually assured South Africa that the SABC’s financial standing has dramatically improved and the turn-around strategy is eventually paying off. While the coalition commends Mokhobo and her team for bringing this stability. The coalition would like to see these developments leading to: more citizen focused programming, the review of editorial policies and willingness by the public broadcaster to openly engage citizens and civil society on these issues and more.

Our meeting has been rescheduled to 22  August 2012; the coalition hopes that Lulama M0khobo and her team can meet us then. The coalition had arranged a press conference for tomorrow to discuss the outcomes of the meeting. Due to this postponement the press conference will also only take place on 22 August 2012. We hope Mokhobo and her team will join us.

The SOS Coalition represents a number of trade unions including Congress of the South African Trade Unions (COSATU), COSATU affiliates Communications Workers Union (CWU), Creative Workers Union of South Africa (CWUSA), Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), Broadcasting, Electronic, Media and Allied Workers Union (BEMAWU) and Media Workers Association of South Africa  (MWASA); independent film and TV production sector organisations including the South African Screen Federation (SASFED); and a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-SA); as well as a number of academics and freedom of expression activists.

For more information contact:

Carol Mohlala
Coordinator
SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition
Mobile: 074 690 1023

Sekoetlane Jacob Phamodi
Campaign Organiser
SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition
Mobile: 076 084 8077

Statement issued by:

Carol Mohlala
Coordinator
SOS: Support Public Broadcasting
Mobile: 074 690 1023

For more about SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, refer to www.supportpublicbroadcasting.co.za.

To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.

Date published: 
Tuesday, 14 August, 2012
Organisation: 
SOS: Support Public Broadcasting

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