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22 October 2010

SOS Press statement

The SOS: Support Public Broadcasting Coalition

COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY NEEDED TO RESOLVE SABC CRISIS

22 October 2010

The SOS Coalition notes the outcomes of the Communications Portfolio Committee hearings on 20 October 2010.

The Coalition is concerned about the findings of the CPC, in particular the glaring lack of corporate governance, the lack of leadership and the dereliction of duty by the chairperson of the Board, Dr Ngubane. The CPC stated strongly that it is of the view that the "Board has failed to provide coherent leadership and to ensure proper corporate governance over the SABC." The Board needs to take responsibility. Further to that it is alarming to hear that the SABC Chair, Dr. Ngubane has not signed the delegation of authority document as regards the new Acting GCEO, Robin Nicholson. In effect the SABC is now operating illegally. The Chairperson of the Board needs to take immediate responsibility for this major corporate governance breach.

However, the Board is not the only guilty party in these protracted crises – it is also important to look at the problems of the SABC's oversight structures. The oversight structures include Parliament, the Ministry and Department of Communications and ICASA. Part of the Board's dysfunction stems from a prolonged lack of appropriate and effective oversight. One of the key issues here is Parliament and the executive's inexplicable unwillingness to resolve the stand-off between Dr. Ngubane and the Board. When a Board declares publicly there is a total breakdown of trust between itself and the Chair - urgent action must be taken. Of course the Board should also have called more clearly for Parliamentary intervention.

It was only eventually, after the resignation of a Board member, Barbara Masekela, that Parliament called a hearing. This was in late August when the initial calls had been made in May. Unfortunately Parliament then decided to hold the hearing behind closed doors. This led to the meeting being disrupted and only certain parties being heard. (SANEF won an urgent court interdict insisting the meeting be held in the open. At that Point Parliament decided to adjourn the meeting.) Strangely, Parliament allowed the Chair of the Board to present even though he had not submitted his documents in advance. (He submitted them that day.) Then when it was time to give the rest of the Board a platform, Parliament adjourned the meeting until further notice. Only one side of the story was thus heard and not from the majority of members.

The Minister's role has also been problematic. During this prolonged period of crisis at the SABC, the Minister intervened but seemingly did not support the Board to address the issue of the corporate governance breaches. Strangely his position on the situation was that the problems were merely the result of "factions" on the board. And unfortunately the crisis was further exacerbated by his unfortunate remarks as regards his unhappiness with the appointment of Acting CEO, Robin Nicholson. In terms of the Articles of Association the Board had no choice but to employ Nicholson. The Articles state that only a member of executive management can act in the position of GCEO. The only person available was Mr. Nicholson. Also, SOS wants to note that the Board needs to be very cautious around calling for interventions from the Minister. The SABC is a public not a state broadcaster. Ministerial interventions should thus be strictly limited to strengthening the position of the board to ensure good corporate governance principles and practices are in fact practiced at the SABC.

The SOS Coalition believes that the problems with the Board and oversight structures need to be urgently examined and remedied. The Chair of the Board needs to be disciplined in terms of his failure to sign the delegation of authority document as regards the SABC's Acting CEO, Mr. Robin Nicholson. SOS believes that moving forward it is critical that the SABC operates scrupulously within the framework of the law. Further, SOS believes it will be difficult to find new SABC board members with the necessary integrity, expertise and experience to serve on this most important of public boards if the governance - and oversight structures - do not recommit themselves to these basic principles of good corporate governance.

The "SOS: Support Public Broadcasting" Coalition represents a number of trade unions including COSATU, COSATU affiliates CWU and CWUSA, FEDUSA and BEMAWU; 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:

Kate Skinner – SOS Coordinator – (082) 926-6404
Patrick Craven – Spokesperson Cosatu – (082) 821-7456
Matankana Mothapo – Spokesperson Communications Workers Union – (082) 759-0900
William Bird – Director Media Monitoring Africa – (082) 887-1370
Faiza Smith – Director Misa-SA – (076) 995-9513

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