Department of Communications on its 2013/14 Annual Report, with Minister

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Meeting Summary

Entities of the Department of Communications (DOC), established as a fully fledged department in May this year, presented their annual reports to the Select Committee on Communications of the National Council of Provinces, with the Minister in attendance.

The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) said it had published four government dialogue newsletters, six editions of the public sector magazine and issued daily updates on key government programmes and activities, 24 My District Today newsletters, 374 Thusong marketing events, 1 246 community and stakeholder liaison visits, and coordinated six Cabinet media briefings among others. The presentation focused on its progress towards achieving the 2014/15 annual targets. The GCIS ceased to exist as an entity on 31 October, as it became the shell of the fully fledged Department of Communications.

The SABC reported that it had provincial offices throughout the country which served as important revenue gathering points, as television licence fees and radio and TV advertising sales were promoted by way of liaison with major businesses and industries in all corners of South Africa. It was giving special attention to delivering more programmes with sign language, procuring productions from companies owned by people with disabilities, as well as procuring productions from people in the provinces, in line with the National Development Plan. The SABC had issued its ninth request for proposals book on 27 October, valued at R600 million, as it continued to be the leading consumer of local content in South Africa, and a generator of employment and development of the independent production industry.

The Film and Publication Board (FPB) told the meeting it conducted outreach and awareness campaigns targeted at learners, educators and members of the general public in various provinces on cyber safety, child pornography and youth seminars. It had received R82.6 million as a grant in the 2013/4 financial year and had raised R4.3 million from regulation fees. Administrative costs were R36.1 million, general operating expenses were R45.4 million and the board had recorded a surplus of R5.4 million compared to the R11.7 million deficit of the previous financial year.

Brand SA said that 91% of the population were proud to be South Africans, 85% believed South Africa was a competitive and innovative country, and 95% had a sense of belonging in the country. 61% of investors had an overall familiarity with South Africa, with its strength of securities exchange regulation, auditing standards, financial development and quality of air transport infrastructure. Areas investors were concerned with were labour markets, the cost of doing business and the quality of primary education and health care.

The Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA) received a clean audit for the eleventh consecutive year. A total of 570 media projects had been supported with MDDA grants worth R275 million; 2 021 individuals had been trained and skilled; 247 bursaries had been granted for media studies; community and small commercial newspapers and magazines were produced in indigenous languages; research work had been produced and published on media topics; and signal distribution costs for community broadcasting had been discounted. Challenges included demands for funding that outweighed available resources, and an increase in applications without additional funding

Members argued the presentations were National Treasury templates, with just indicators which Members could not understand. The SABC presentation was applauded, as it focused on provinces. However, questions were raised as to why it had not covered the Communist Party Congress in the Eastern Cape both on radio and television.

The Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) was applauded for bringing down mobile call termination rates, and Members urged that this must be done also to DSTV, so that consumers were not forced to buy packages with programmes that they would never watch. It was agreed that a workshop would be arranged so that Members could gain a deeper insight into the operations of the entities, enabling them to perform their oversight responsibilities more effectively.

Meeting report

Briefing by Minister of Communications

The Minister of Communications, Ms Faith Muthambi, said that on 25 May, the President established a new Ministry of Communications as the department responsible for the overarching communication strategy, information dissemination and publicity. The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) ceased to exist on 31 October 2014, as it became the start-up structure for the Department of Communications. The Department was embarking on a migration process to transfer employees into the new Department, which would be completed by 31 March 2015. It would work with the Department of Public Service and Administration in migrating employees to the new structure.

All the entities reflected satisfactory 2013/14 performance reports. In order to satisfy the Committee, reports reflecting provincial programmes would be furnished within two weeks.  The Film and Publication Board (FPB), the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) and Brand SA had all received an unqualified audit opinion. The SABC had moved from disclaimer to a qualified audit and the Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA) had received a clean audit for the eleventh year in succession. She was going to launch an operation “Clean Audit” with the Auditor General in her Department.

Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) 2014/15 mid term report

( The GCIS mistakenly sent the Committee the 2014/15 mid term report beforehand, instead of the 2013/14 annual report. It was forced to present on the mid term report so that it could be on the same page with Members.)

Mr Harold Maloka, Deputy Director General, Content Processing and Dissemination, GCIS, said the primary role of GCIS was to provide strategic communication in government, and to ensure that the public was informed about government policies and plans. From 1 April to 30 September 2014, GCIS had 67 targets, of which 63 were achieved. It published four government dialogue newsletters, six editions of the public sector magazine and issued daily updates on key government programmes and activities, 24 My District Today newsletters, 374 Thusong marketing events, 1 246 community and stakeholder liaison visits and coordinated six Cabinet media briefings, among others. The presentation was all about its progress towards achieving the 2014/15 annual targets in its various sub-programmes. This annoyed one of the Members, who said that it presented a National Treasury template which Members could not understand.

GCIS ceased to exist as an entity on 31 October, as it became the shell of the fully-fledged Department of Communications (DOC).

Film and Publication Board (FPB) Annual Report

Mr Sipho Risiba, Chief Operating Officer, FPB, said that FPB conducts outreach and awareness campaigns targeted at learners, educators and members of the general public in various provinces on cyber safety, child pornography and youth seminars. It received R82.6 million as a grant in the 2013/4 financial year and raised R4,3 million from regulation fees. Administrative costs were R36,1 million, general operating expenses were R45,4 million and the board recorded a surplus of R5,4 million compared to the R11, 7 million deficit of the previous financial year.

SABC Provincial Offices

Mr Anton Heunis, SABC Board Member, said SABC have offices in all the country’s nine provinces, with services available to the general via these “mini SABCs” managed by a provincial general manger responsible for the day to day running of SABC operations in his/her province. The majority of SABC public service broadcasting radio stations were based in the provinces, providing a technical and operational platform for the stations as well as extended news gathering operations. The provincial offices serve as important revenue gathering points, as television licence fees and radio and TV advertising sales were promoted by a way of liaison with major businesses and industries in all corners of South Africa.

The SABC was giving special attention to delivering more programmes with sign language, procuring productions from companies owned by people with disabilities as well as procuring productions from people in the provinces in line, with the National Development Plan. SABC had issued its ninth request for proposal book on 27 October, valued at R600 million, as it continued to be the leading consumer of local content in South Africa, and a generator of employment and development of the independent production industry. Producers and production houses outside Johannesburg were being encouraged to submit their ideas on local content, with the aim of providing South Africa with high quality local programmes that reflect diverse cultures, languages, life experiences, interests and needs of its audiences.

Brand SA 2013/14 Annual Report

Ms Chichi Maponya, Chairperson of Brand South Africa, said it had achieved 88,8% of its targets. The Auditor General had said its financial statements presented fairly in all material respects, and its financial performance and cash flows for the year had ended in accordance with the SA standard of GRAP and requirements of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). The death of Nelson Mandela, though a loss to the nation, had provided it with an opportunity to promote the positive gains of the country by focusing on the Madiba legacy. It had expanded the Global South Africa networks to Germany, China, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.

She said that 91% of the population were proud to be South Africans, 85% believe South Africa was a competitive and innovative country and 95% have a sense of belonging in the country. 61% of investors have an overall familiarity with South Africa and its strength of securities exchange regulation, auditing standards, financial development and quality of air transport infrastructure. Areas investors were concerned with were labour markets, the cost of doing business and the quality of primary education and health.

ICASA Annual Report 2013/14

Mr Pieter Grotes, General Manager ICASA, said ICASA’s mandate was to regulate broadcasting, electronic communications and postal services in the public interest, and to ensure fairness and diversity of views broadly representing South Africa. It also issues licences for electronic communications network services, broadcasting services and postal services. It protects consumers from unfair business practices and poor quality of services.

ICASA achieved an unqualified audit for the second consecutive year. Call termination rates have declined since 2010, notwithstanding a court challenge by dominant operators. A model on opportunistic spectrum management was developed in collaboration with research institutions, which included the results of white space studies on opportunistic spectrum management.

MDDA Annual Report 2013/14

Mr Mshiyeni Gungqisa, Acting CEO, MDDA, said MDDA received a clean audit for the eleventh consecutive year. A total of 570 media projects had been supported with MDDA grants worth R275 million; more than 2 021 individuals trained and skilled; more than 247 bursaries granted for media studies; community and small commercial newspapers and magazines produced in indigenous languages; research work produced and published on media topics; and signal distribution costs for community broadcasting discounted. Challenges included demands for funding that outweighed available resources, and an increase in applications without additional funding

Discussion

Mr M Rayi (ANC, Eastern Cape) was worried that GCIS had presented its 2014/15 mid term report instead of 2013/14 annual report -- and GCIS has ceased to exist on 31 October 2013. The presentations from the Departments were like Treasury templates with indicators, as the Departments were the only one that understood them. He knew only of Vukuzenzele newsletter when he started serving in Parliament. He asked if they were mechanisms to conduct a survey to find out if people in rural areas were receiving the newsletter. The SABC presentation focussed on provinces which were laudable, but not all provinces were covered. He asked why the Communist Party Congress was not covered in the Eastern Cape, both on radio and television. When he first bought a television set in the 1980s, there was regional news apart from national news, and SABC news should also have such a regional focus. He asked if ICASA regulated private television, like DSTV. ICASA was doing a good job in reducing mobile call termination rates. This must be done also to DSTV, so that consumers were not forced to buy packages with programmes that one would never watch. He asked if Brand SA had any collaboration with SAA, especially on international flights to promote South Africa, instead of just having funny jokes that made passengers laugh. He asked SABC if news channel 404 was a permanent or temporary arrangement.

Ms B Masango (DA, Gauteng) asked if the restructuring of the DOC had cost any amount.

The Chairperson said time was running out and Members should ask a maximum of two questions. Other questions must be written to the Committee Secretary, who would forward them to the relevant Department.

Mr J Parkies (ANC, Free State) asked the Minister when the DOC would be up to standard and functioning optimally. The SABC had not presented its finances, which was problematic. He asked how Brand SA quantified its job against negative perceptions informed by rating agencies. He asked how MDDA quantified access to ownership and access to information by communities.

Mr A Nyambi (ANC, Mpumalanga) said he had 35 questions, but would not ask any. The drafters of the Constitution were not mistaken to have two Houses -- Parliament was not the National Assembly, and was not the NCOP. Whenever the Departments were having a conference or anything, the invitation had to be sent to both Houses. The Minister must organise a session with all her Departments with the Committee so that Members understood what they would be doing oversight on. He asked the Chairperson if writing questions was a continuation of the meeting, given that Members of the Committee were entitled at any given time to write questions to the Minister or the Department at any time, on any day.

Mr A Singh (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) supported Mr Nyambi’s proposal to have a session with the entities, explaining what they do, so that Members understood what they would be doing oversight on.

Ms C Labuschagne (DA, Western Cape) asked if the various programmes at the provincial level were equitable in terms of budget. She wanted clarity if the grant received by FPB of R17.8 million was a lot, as it had reported a surplus of R5,4 million.

The Minister replied that she had already hinted to the Chairperson that they should have a workshop with the Committee.

Mr Maloka said GCIS distributed only 1.7 million copies of Vukuzenzele to the population of 54 million, because of budget constraints. GCIS does research on its distribution and it had found that there was a high demand, but the budget was limited.

Ms Maponya said Brand SA had a stand on video on SAA flights, but she was not sure of the SAA schedule and how often they played it. Brand SA had done a few stories in the Sakubona magazine and was requesting a standing page in the magazine. It could not quantify the impact of rating agencies in articles and perceptions that came through.

Mr Grotes replied that ICASA was looking into effective pricing and transparency. It had prioritised mobile call termination rates and would move into the broadcasting space in 2015. It would consider the proposal to regulate DSTV packages.

Mr Risiba said that the R5.4 million FPB surplus was because it had embarked on a process of reviewing its legislation to take into consideration the changes brought by technology, and that had delayed the online content regulation strategy that had been approved only recently. All the money received could not be committed because of the work being done on online content regulation.

Ms Ellen Tshabalala, Chairperson of theSABC Board, welcomed all the questions and appreciated having a session with the Committee. Channel 404 was a permanent channel. SABC had been unable to cover the Communist Party Congress because it had been experiencing cuts, and was considering disciplinary action against the Departments responsible for monitoring, so that SABC does not have cuts. SABC would like to cover all regional news, but it gives preference to community radio stations. It gave a presentation to the Chair of Chairs on how news happens and how languages were balanced. SABC would invite Members to get a appraisal of the state of readiness for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) migration.

Mr Nyambi reminded Ms Tshabalala that the Chair of Chairs belongs to the National Assembly, and the SABC has not yet done a presentation to the Chair of the NCOP.

Mr Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Chief Operating Officer, SABC, said channel 404 was a pilot project for the switch to DTT. SABC had to put that channel to compete with Multi Choice, which was dominating news. It was going to bring back provincial coverage of news. SABC needed to focus on educating the citizens. Many people thought that if a Member went to the NCOP, he or she was dead. SABC needed to educate people about the two Houses and the difference between the two. SABC was going to deploy a person to work permanently in the NCOP, as it had people working in the National Assembly.

Mr Heunis said the SABC did not present its finances because of the consequence of the two Houses. It thought it had done so in great detail when it had presented to the Portfolio Committee on Communications. The SABC was willing to discuss its finances with the Select Committee.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister and the entities for appearing before the Committee. The Committee was not there to sleep, and was looking forward to robust engagements. If they thought the Committee was sleeping, it would bite, as it played its oversight role in totality. The Committee meant business, and was sick and tired of reading all the negative news in the newspapers. The Ministers must turn the entities around. She looked forward to the workshop which was likely to be held before the end of the term.

The Minister said all the entities had learnt that there were two Houses in Parliament -- the National Assembly and the NCOP. She still awaited questions from the Members so that the Department would be well prepared for the workshop. It was the responsibility of the Committee to hold the executive to account.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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