Broadcasting Amendment Bill: public hearings

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Communications

17 September 2002
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Meeting report

COMMUNICATIONS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
18 September 2002
BROADCASTING AMENDMENT BILL: PUBLIC HEARINGS

 

Chairperson: Mr N Kekana (ANC)

Documents handed out:

Submission by ICASA
Address by Chairperson of ICASA
Submission by the Media Institute of South Africa
Submission by COSATU
Submission by Tabema
Submission by the Media Monitoring Group

 

SUMMARY
The Media Monitoring Group was satisfied with certain aspects of the Bill. They noted that the Bill is an attempt by the Government to address the level of inequalities that exist among people. They were disappointed that the SABC is unable, at present, to provide programming in line with the public interest.

ICASA viewed the Bill as an attempt by the government to address the problems that are still prevalent in South Africa. While it was not opposed to the new amendments there were aspects in the new Bill they would like to change. If the new Bill was an attempt to control the SABC by the government, it would not work. Any legislation or executive conduct that encroached on the independence of ICASA, would be viewed as unconstitutional and invalid.

COSATU suggested that some clauses in the Bill be suspended pending finalisation of a holistic investigation and review into the current direction of the SABC within the context of the broader policy objectives.

MISA found the bill to be an attempt by the government to interfere in the management of the SABC's editorial content with the aim of achieving party political goals. As result MISA called for the suspension of the proposed Bill until they have reached sufficient consensus on the matter. They welcomed those clauses that sought to give clarity to policy objectives in as far as they relate to the deficiencies in the Broadcasting Act, IBA Act and ICASA Act.

Tabema represented the interests of the Afrikaans speaking group in South Africa but also spoke on behalf of all the marginalised languages in South Africa. Tabema thought that the proposed legislation is not required for the stated purpose of promoting language diversity, since it is quite possible for the SABC, within the existing legal framework and using its existing infrastructure, to fulfil its mandate as far as language diversity is concerned.

MINUTES
Submission by the Media Monitoring Group
The Media Monitoring Group were satisfied with certain aspects of the Bill. They noted that the Bill is an attempt by the Government to address the level of inequalities that exist among people. The Group felt that the SABC has the mandate to provide the public with good programmes, which are in line with national interests. But they raised their disappointment since the SABC seems unable to do that at present.

Discussion
Ms D Smuts (DP) was disappointed that even though the Media Monitoring Group is a non- governmental organisation it sounded as if it is was backing the government on this matter. Ms Smuts further stated that ICASA is there to hold the SABC accountable and surely there was no need for government to interfere in the affairs of the SABC.

The Chairperson asked Members when a public interest is national and who is responsible for carrying out national interest. He asked whether it is the duty of the SABC to carry out the national interest. Mr Kekana presented his own version of national interest: the government is elected by the people and because of that they are the greatest contributor to the national interest. The view of the DP that the SABC should not be accused of not having met the interests of the public is a sham.

Mr Bird, representing the Media Monitoring Group, stated that SABC has an obligation to fulfil its mandate to the people of this country. He mentioned the fact that even though e-TV is still new on the broadcasting arena compared to the SABC, it is much easier to assess whether e-TV has met its obligation to the public or not. It would be very difficult to say the same with SABC. He said he did not believe that at present the SABC is doing enough to meet national interests. Mr Bird gave his version of national interest versus public interest issue. National interest is the responsibility of the government while on the other hand public interest also has to do with the interests of the people the state has to meet. He further stated that at the same time people must be free to criticise the government and the same applies to the SABC. Its duty is to further public interests but at the same time it must be able to point out weaknesses in the government.

The Chairperson mentioned that according to the broadcasting law, ICASA must regulate national interest. He further argued that ICASA could claim legitimacy on this issue, so then the question may be how different is ICASA from the government? Must the government give some direction to ICASA so that it could be in a position to further public interest? Mr Kekana said it seemed to him that in South Africa public interest is the view of those who have lost the elections and are determined to oppose the government.

Submission by ICASA
Mr Mandla Langa: Chairperson of ICASA, said ICASA viewed the Bill as an attempt by the government to address the problems which are still prevalent in South Africa. ICASA is not opposed to the new amendments but there were aspects in the new Bill they would like to change. Mr Langa mentioned that quite apart from the provision in Clause 5,8 and 15, which provide further objective structural guarantees of ICASA's independence, ICASA Act and Section 192 of the Constitution also guarantee the independence of ICASA in so far as broadcast regulation is concerned. He further stated that if the new Bill is an attempt to control the SABC by the government, it would not work. Any legislation or executive conduct that encroaches on the independence of ICASA, would be viewed as unconstitutional and invalid.

MINUTES
Mr Durant (NNP) said that according to the amendment to the Broadcasting Act ICASA's mandate is clear. The problem was the fact that the SABC is not able to carry out its obligations when it comes to the language issues.

Ms Smuts asked whether the new Bill is not an attempt by the government to strip the SABC board off its powers.

Mr Pieterse and Mr Magashule (ANC) expressed their disappointment with the behaviour of Ms Smuts and accused her of stirring trouble. Mr Magashule argued that if the government wanted to control the SABC it would have done so long time ago. There was nothing wrong when the government changed something from time to time if something is not productive and effective. He asked ICASA whether they had taken any means to remind the SABC of its responsibility.

Mr Langa responded that the fact that the Minister made a speech regarding lack of effectiveness on the part of the SABC does not mean that the government is trying to take control of the SABC. He said that he could not speak on behalf of the SABC board but would comment only on the effectiveness of ICASA.

Mr Langa informed members that ICASA has a business plan which assists them in reviewing the successes of ICASA and the failures thereof. ICASA recently held a bosberaad with the group of consultants, who came on board as a result of the British Aid, to help them formulate their plans and to be able to carry out their duties more effectively. ICASA wanted to find out from the ANC and the government what the roles of the regulator and its responsibilities were. ICASA engaged the government in these discussions to level the playing fields and to address any misunderstandings.

The delegates from ICASA noted that they view the language question as an important issue, which needed immediate attention. They stated that it is the duty of every broadcaster to meet the language requirements and the duty of ICASA is to make sure that all broadcasters meet their mandates.

Mr Kekana asked whether the SABC would be allowed to utilise resources from the Bantustan stations like BOP TV, which have been given three years before it closes business. He wanted to find out whether the frequencies, which BOP uses, are strong enough to enable the SABC to meet its mandate in as far as the language issue is concerned.

Mr Langa's response was that the Minister was the main shareholder regarding the issue of redundant stations from the Bantustans. On the questions of frequencies, Mr Langa noted that it is not the duty of ICASA to utilise such frequencies. Such decisions could only be take by the Minister.

Mr Abram (UDM) wanted to know how one could compel the national broadcaster to meet public interests. He also highlighted the issue of sign language, which is not being taken care of by the SABC. Mr Langa stated that broadcasters have been making many promises to improve performance and among the promises they made was the use of sign language. Broadcasters themselves should seek out some of these things. On the issue of language Mr Langa stated that such a matter must be viewed in accordance with the PBS and the agreement that was made prior to the 1994 elections during the transition period.

In conclusion Mr Kekana informed delegates from ICASA that the language issue involves some legalities. If communities feel that their language is marginalised the first organisation to institute legal proceedings against is ICASA. Mr Kekana concluded by stating that it seems to him that ICASA is a battlefield by the fourth estate [media] to establish itself.

Submission by the Media Institute of South Africa
The Media Institute of South Africa [MISA] welcomed the amendments that seek to clarify policy objectives in as far as they relate to the deficiencies in the Broadcasting Act, IBA Act and ICASA Act. However, MISA raised their concern with the issue of accuracy, fairness and accountable reporting as set out in Clause 6. As a organisation that espouses media freedom, which includes editorial independence, they found the bill to be an attempt by the government to interfere in the management of the SABC's editorial content with the aim of achieving party political goals. As result of that MISA called for the suspension of the proposed Bill until they have reached sufficient consensus on the matter.

Discussion
Mr Lekgoro (ANC) mentioned that the reforms to the Broadcasting Act should be viewed within a broader reformation framework. The problem seems to be the fact that this idea came from the ruling party and this is why there is so much noise about it. He told MISA that they should contest the proposal and not the fact that it came from the ANC. Their comments were negative towards the government.

Ms Smuts stated that they, like MISA, were also not happy with some aspects of the Bill. She said that she feel the government was using the language issue to take control of the SABC.

A Member stated that most people still do not know how democracy functions, they view this Bill with what is happening all over Africa and concluded that the ANC is trying to control the SABC, which to him was out of line. The Member accused the people of South Africa of being unpatriotic. South Africans should emulate the people of USA and learn to support their government. He then asked delegates from MISA whether they found anything positive about the proposed Bill.

Ms Pokane responded by stating that she did see some positive aspects in the Bill, such as Clause 30, which proposes signal distributions and the fact that the Bill proposes the establishment of regional broadcasters, which aims to make the media accessible to the masses of South Africans. She stated that to a certain extent the ruling party might have a point but they are opposed to the fact that the government should control the SABC. Mr Louw (MISA) also stated that there were some positive aspects in the Bill, one of them is the fact that it meets constitutional requirements. But they thought that the government could do better than this and improve some aspects of the Bill.

Mr Magashule questioned the fact that Mr Louw was a South African; if he was a South African he would not make statements which said that the ANC wanted to oppress the media. Mr Magashule asked Mr Louw whether he suggested that this Bill be cancelled or not.

Mr Abrams wanted to know from MISA whether they represented public opinion.

Mr Louw responded that they do not represent public interest but their institution. During apartheid the media was not allowed to criticise the government. The National Party controlled the media. The role of MISA is to represent the interest of the journalists.

Mr Kekana stated that there was a paradigm shift here; MISA cannot use the apartheid state as a measure of public interest. National interest, Mr Kekana noted, is derived from the will and mandate of the people who elected the government. Public interest could not supersede national interests. Mr Kekana concluded by stating that MISA has no right to say that the Bill is wrong because they were in Parliament to make their briefing, and it is Parliament which makes laws. Mr Kekane pointed out the fact that South Africa is a democratic country: that is why they afford all people an opportunity to make their presentations.

Submission by COSATU
The Secretary General of COSATU, Mr Zwelinzima Vavi, explained that there is a growing public debate about the direction of the public broadcaster and mounting concern about the lack of progress in taking forward the mandate entrusted to it. Mr Vavi said that they were deeply concerned by the trends towards what is in their view, rampant commercialisation of the services of the public broadcasting service. This has seriously compromised the achievements of its public service mandate. COSATU then suggested that some clauses in the Bill be suspended pending finalisation of a holistic investigation and review into the current direction of the SABC within the context of the broader policy objectives. Mr Vavi argued that it does not make sense to implement measures which are supposed to fix a problem when in fact these very measures may exacerbate the situation.

Discussion
Mr Durant agreed with COSATU on the question of the commercialisation of the SABC, but was quick to point out that the SABC get most of its money from advertisements and as far as he was concerned there is nothing wrong about that.

Ms Vos [IFP] stated that there were millions of unemployed people in this country and by restructuring the SABC the government would exacerbate the situation as more people would lose their jobs.

Mr Vavi stated that COSATU is calling for an increased public funding of the SABC so that it could carry out its mandate to the public. Mr Vavi stated that COSATU does not anticipate huge job loses when the government restructures the SABC. In fact he argued that the creation of regional stations would benefit millions of the people who were previously disadvantaged.

Mr Abram [UDM] asked whether COSATU thought that the Bill should be suspended or not.

Mr Vavi responded by saying that COSATU is not calling for the suspension of the entire Bill. They have made specific proposals and are prepared to work with the government on the matter.

Mr Pieterse wanted to find out from COSATU what do they meant when they spoke of the independence of the national broadcaster.

Mr Vavi stated that they needed to find a formula to maintain balance. Sometimes they needed government intervention to redress some of the imbalances that were prevalent in our societies. But at the same time the framework under which the SABC operates, Mr Vavi continued, must be free from state domination and control. The government must transform the SABC but it must not turn the SABC into its propaganda machinery. COSATU stated that the current role of the SABC is not effective. It seemed to be a mess. The SABC is not doing enough to address the transform itself and to meet its public mandate.

Submission by Tabema- Afrikaans-Taal Organisation
Tabema is an organisation representing the interests of the Afrikaans speaking group in South Africa. The Organisation made its presentation on the language issue in South Africa.

Mr Viljoen told Members that they were not in Parliament to promote the interests of the Afrikaners only but to speak on behalf of all the marginalised languages in South Africa. Professor Viljoen stated that English was not one of the biggest languages in this country because according to his research there are three if not four dominant languages in this country. They are Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Tswana. As a result of these findings Tabema suggested the establishment of a new system of language in broadcasting. They stated that the four languages should be used as the bases for a fair, equitable, affordable language dispensation for the SABC. Tabema suggested the establishment of a block shared approach, that is, one block for the Nguni and Sotho and the other block for Afrikaans and English.

It is the view of Tabema and the Taalsekretariaat that the proposed legislation is not required for the stated purpose of promoting language diversity, since it is quite possible for the SABC, within the existing legal framework and using its existing infrastructure, to fulfil its mandate as far as language diversity is concerned.

The meeting was adjourned.

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