Communications Portfolio Committee Oversight Report

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Communications and Digital Technologies

01 September 2015
Chairperson: Ms J Moloi-Moropa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

While much of the draft documents were reflective of the observations made during the oversight visits, Members could not agree on the validity of the request made by SABC board member, Krish Naidoo, to institute legal action against the board regarding the illegal dismissal of three members. There were also discrepancies regarding the ability of the Committee to instruct Chapter 9 Institutions on how to conduct interaction with their staff and parliament; as a political body, the Committee is not permitted to do so. Recommendations were made regarding the Minister’s controversial involvement in these bodies and the proposal to conduct investigations into the finances of community-based radio stations. While much of the draft documents were adopted and remain almost identical after the changes were made, the Committee awaited consultation from various avenues regarding recommendations proposed by Members. 

Meeting report

The oversight Committee reports were conducted in three phases, namely: Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) in the 25 to 26 November 2014 Report; Phase two being the Department of Communications, the Film Publications Board (FPB) and Brand South Africa (BSA) in the 3 to 5 February 2015 draft report; and phase three concluding the oversight visit to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Community Radio Broadcasters , Free-To-Air Broadcasters and Pay-TV Broadcasters in the 21 to 23 July 2015 draft report. The primary focus of the meeting was on the recommendations made to the Minister following observations noted during the oversight visits. The phrasing, grammar and content of the recommendations were changed and some recommendations proposed could not be immediately adopted due to the need for further investigation and consultation with other parliamentary bodies prior to adopting the draft.

Adoption of minutes
Mr G Davis (DA) referred to page 8 of the minutes of 4 and 18 August 2015 that stated that the Committee thanked the minister for ‘the good work’; in the meeting it was not unanimous that every member of the Committee thought the minister’s work was satisfactory.

The Chairperson replied that the report was not reflective of the perspectives of individual Members in the meeting, but about what transpired in the meeting.

Mr M Kekana (ANC) agreed with the Chairperson and explained that Members had all agreed on the usefulness of the work conducted by the Minister in highlighting issues for the Committee to address; although Members questioned their individual discrepancies with the work, the usefulness of the work was a majority agreement.

Mr Davis asked if anyone could prove this sentiment because he did not recall the agreement by the Committee regarding the minister’s work. The minutes must be an accurate reflection of what transpired in the meeting and the Committee could not align itself to incorrect statements made in the minutes.

The Chairperson noted what Mr Davis said.

Mr R Tseli (ANC) supported the comment made by Mr Kekana. He referred to page 7 of the minutes; the timeframe in which responses were to reach the Portfolio Committee was missing.

Mr Davis referred to page 8 under the 9th point made regarding the issue of ALEX-FM and the order that was made to ICASA to reinstate the licence of the radio station within two weeks. He did not think the Committee reached a resolve on the matter and that as ICASA is a Chapter 9 Institution, the Committee did not reserve the ability to order its action, as it is an independent body, it was only a demand made by ‘big boy Kekana’.

Mr Kekana said other Members who agreed with the sentiment spoke of the issue of ALEX-FM; he was the last person to speak of ALEX-FM and the majority agreed upon the sentiment.

Mr Davis said the Committee did not take a vote on the matter, so the Committee could not allow it to stand as it did in the minutes.

Mr Kekana corrected Mr Davis; it was not Alex TV, not FM.

The Chairperson warned Mr Davis to leave out irrelevant and sarcastic sentiments directed at other Members.

Mr Tseli explained to Mr Davis that if a proposal was put forward and not objected to in the meeting, and then it functioned as an agreement. He did not recall Mr Davis objecting to the motion that was put forward that day.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC) said the issue at hand was not raised in a study group. She reminded Mr Davis that the issue was raised in a meeting of the Committee in the Old Assembly building that day and agreed on. The issues pertaining to Alex-FM were already raised in August.

Mr Davis argued that no proposal was made in any previous meetings or seconding thereof and therefore there was no opportunity to object. There was no formal process by which the committee reached a resolve regarding the matter and the Portfolio Committee on Communications could not force ICASA to act in any particular way regarding the issues raised because the Committee is a political body and ICASA forms part of the Chapter 9 Institutions.

The Chairperson responded that the minutes were captured in the way in which matters arose and were addressed as per the meeting and that the changes Mr Davis was requesting the Committee to make would change the accuracy of what transpired in that meeting. He requested the Committee, moving forward, that Members who did not fully agree with proposals made in the meeting to speak within that meeting. He reiterated that the purpose of going through the minutes was to confirm the decisions reached in the meeting and affirm the detail.

Ms V Van Dyk (DA) said the misleading factor in the minutes was the usage of the word “must”, which made the statement controversial in appearing to command Chapter 9 Institutions when the Committee was a political body.

Mr Kekana agreed that the purpose of adopting minute was not to change what happened or was agreed upon in a previous meeting.

The Chairperson said the Committee was not attempting to say close the issue and prevent it from being raised as an issue moving forward.

Mr Davis said that the structure of the previous meeting did not allow Members to further question every presentation and issue that arose. The minutes should reflect that the structure of the meeting limited opportunities for reflection and that the Committee needed to be given more time to respond to presentations. It was also of concern that the Committee was given documents a week later than expected, and requested that the records reflect that.

Mr Kekana replied that even prior to interrogating the presenters, the Committee set the agenda and timeframe in which issues would be addressed. The lack of time allocated to interrogate presenters was more reflective of the lack on the Committee’s part to develop efficient mechanisms to conduct meetings with the presenters.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) replied that the Committee was not saying it was against the presenters and the manner in which their presentations were delivered. The issue was rather one of time and the availability thereof to fully engage with presenters – which was both a Committee and presenter issue.

Mr Tseli said it was correct of Mr Davis to note the issue of the Committee receiving the responses in the time-period and the manner in which they were received. The issue had been raised in the meeting to find a way forward for future meetings. He agreed with Mr Kekana regarding the fact that the Committee agreed upon the agenda and introspection was needed in that regard.

Mr Davis said Members all agreed on the issue; his request was based on the fact that the issues experienced in this regard should reflect in the minutes as a means of introspection and preventing reoccurrence in future.

The Chairperson was mindful that the Committee could not have fully engaged with entities in that amount of time and the Members agreed on this sentiment. She apologised for the predicament it placed members in.

The minutes were adopted.

Oversight visit reports

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA)
The Chairperson proceeded to the draft report of 25-26 November 2015 and asked for specific attention to be drawn to the visit to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) and the deliberations and recommendations of point 6.5 on page 13 detailing the issue of demotivated staff on 6.5.2 (iv) and whether the recommendations were reflective of what the Committee thought to be adequate to address the issue

Mr Tseli referred to the second recommendation listed on page 14, and said the issue raised by the staff was not one that the Portfolio Committee on Communications could wait for parliament to adopt. The Committee had also previously raised some of the issues raised by the ICASA staff and the persistence of such issues may continue in the wait involved for a parliamentary sitting.

The Chairperson noted Mr Tseli’s suggestion and asked if the draft could be put forward for adoption.

The report was adopted.

Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS)
The Chairperson moved on to the draft report of 3 to 5 February 2015 and noted the development of the Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) and proceeded to read out point 6.4 to point 7 in the document in which the recommendations for improvement were located. She proceeded to edit grammatical errors in point 7.2 and edited ‘but now’ in 7.2. She suggested the removal of the 7.3 (iii) sentence not only due to its grammar but also because of the controversial usage of the word ‘diminishing’. The Chairperson proceeded to remove the word ‘monthly’ and substituted it with ‘consistently’ with the support of the Committee due to complexity of conducting monthly forums for staff engagement in point 7.3 (iii) in the recommendations made to the Minister. The word ‘monthly’ was substituted with ‘consistently’ under point 7.3 (iii). She referred to the need for more editing in 7.3.4 regarding the word usage of ‘provided by GCIS’ for relevance of content.

Mr Davis asked if the committee was developing the recommendations in the meeting.

The Chairperson responded that they were primarily summarising content

Mr Davis asked who wrote the recommendations if they did not come from the Committee.

Mr Kekana said that the secretariat captured what Members said and those sentiments could result in being stated recommendations, even when the committee did not have a formal section in an agenda that specifically called for recommendations.

Mr Davis said he accepted the secretariat’s job within the committee in the production of the reports, the issue he was raising was more a concern that the Committee did not make the recommendations themselves and were seeing the recommendations for the first time.

The Chairperson responded that the recommendations listed in the report were circulated to all Members to provide commentary and additional recommendations on and that Committee Members were not seeing the recommendations for the first time. She reiterated that the function of circulating documents prior to meetings was primarily for consultation with Members regarding documents and for Members to submit recommendations and proposals.

Mr Tseli added that the Committee Secretary captured what Members did not pay attention to as persons actively participating in the meeting, which at times will not be most evident to Members present. It was not the role of committee to document such developments.

Mr Kekana suggested that Mr Davis be given tutorials regarding how meetings worked, how agreements were documented, and how the Committee adopted recommendations.

Ms Tsotetsi asked whether people who wished to add to the recommendations already listed could do so.

The Chairperson said yes and that the meeting was specifically to adopt this report and that once the report with the added changes was circulated, the Committee would examine it for the last time for confirmation before adoption.

Mr Davis said he was merely asking for clarity on the matter.

Mr Tseli agreed with Mr Davis, but did not think that was the essence of what was being said by other Members at the time; Mr Davis was too focused on party politics. The Committee was engaged in a discussion concerning the work Brand South Africa (BSA) was doing with their constituencies and were well within their right to do so.

Mr Davis said he understood the points being made, but was attempting to show that constituencies are political creations in themselves and that he did not believe an MP could conduct visits to their constituencies (as suggested in the first recommendation to the Minister under point 7.2 on the last page of the document) without campaigning as their work as MPs could not be separated from their political affiliation.

The Chairperson stated that the debate was completely separate from what ought to be the focus of the meeting and as a public servant, she assisted people that were not always affiliated to the political party she served under. Committee members had to assist those who sought assistance, regardless of political affiliation.

Ms Tsotetsi said that Mr Davis was being oversensitive and supported Chair’s sentiments on serving all citizens without political bias.

Mr Tseli said the recommendation should stand because it should not be politically driven.

Ms Van Dyk asked why there should be a campaign package (as stated in the recommendations to the Minister under 7.2) for politicians. She did not understand why Members of Parliament could not engage with constituencies as normal citizens.

The Chairperson responded that as a representative of Parliament, Ms Van Dyk was located in a different position that other civilians did not have with regard to views considered as consultation on matters of governance and oversight and the implementation thereof. Members of this Committee were ambassadors for Parliament and ought to conduct themselves publicly as such.

Ms Tsotetsi supported the Chair’s response to Ms Van Dyk.

Ms Tsotetsi asked too re-instate the deleted sentence in 7.3 as it spoke to the point made above it and suggested that the Committee reword the sentence instead of completely erasing it

The Chairperson noted the suggestion

The report was adopted.

South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
The Chairperson proceeded to move on to the draft document of 21 to 23 July detailing the Committee’s visit to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and to the recommendations made on page 25 under point 11.1.

Mr Davis said he thought the visit to the SABC in general was a useful oversight visit and that the recommendations made captured the proceedings shown on page 11 of the report well. The report failed to capture a comment made by a board member of the SABC that he felt was important, being the issue of the illegal removal of three board members and the requested that the Committee initiate legal action regarding the matter against the SABC board.

Mr Kekana requested that Mr Davis reveal the name of the board member who expressed the request for legal action, as the Committee could not act on information not validated, which could potentially be propaganda. He did not recall any board member making that request and the Committee ought not to entertain the sentiment referred to by Mr Davis.

The Chairperson replied that she recalled having heard from the board members that the Committee needed to provide the SABC board with clarity on the legislative component concerning the appointments of board members as stated by board member Krish Naidoo; the matter was captured on page 12 of the draft document.

Mr Davis insisted, he had specifically written down the comment made by Krish Naidoo and thus knew he was not mistaken on the matter and suggested the Committee request Krish Naidoo to confirm speaking on the matter and the request for legal intervention to be taken by the committee.

Mr Kekana said that the Committee did not sit to discuss the issue as an agenda item and that the persistence of Mr Davis regarding the matter in meetings in conjunction with his actions publicly, in which he had been very vocal on the details of the SABC and his thoughts thereof had created suspicion of ulterior motives. He suggested the Committee obtain a recording of the meeting to affirm what was said by Krish Naidoo to validate this request.

Mr Davis responded that he has been publicly vocal about the matter because ‘It is called doing one’s job’ when writing letters and making public statements that aim to hold state-bodies to account. As a point of order he requested that Mr Kekana not be allowed to make personal statements in the meeting.

The Chairperson warned all members to refrain from making any personal attacks against other members.

Mr Kekana replied that he was not engaging in any personal attacks as he had mentioned things that Mr Davis had done in a public setting that were not of personal knowledge; things that Mr Davis had done in public and had confirmed in the meeting. His statement was not a personal attack, however, if the committee considered the political bias Mr Davis had spoken of earlier, as opposition, it was worth noting his bias in the matter that could have been perceived as an attempt to skew the sentiments of the Committee. Mr Kekana reiterated the need for the recording of the meeting with the SABC board to investigate the matter further and expressed that until the evidence had been obtained, that the report should remain as is.

The Chairperson said she would investigate the matter further and attempt to find evidence of the claim. She proceeded with the recommendations

Mr Davis referred to the recommendation under 11.1 (ii) page 25 and stated that it reflected incorrectly as not all members agreed to the recommendation.

The Chairperson noted the amendment and suggested the wording be changed from ‘members agreed’ to ‘the Committee agreed’ and continued.

Mr Davis referred to 11.1 (i) under the recommendations made to the Minister on page 26 and suggested that the Committee be specific about the use of the word ‘collaboration’.

The Chairperson replied that the usage of the word ‘collaboration’ meant more interaction between the SABC and Parliament.

Mr Davis suggested that the wording be changed to ‘interaction’.

The Chairperson changed the wording to ‘more interaction’.

Ms Van Dyk said that it was not the job of Parliament to change negative perceptions of the SABC and questioned why the SABC was not solely responsible for that

Mr Tseli replied that the SABC was a state-funded public broadcaster and that there was no way a government could give taxpayers money to state-bodies and not be concerned about the negative perceptions that surrounded it. It was their duty as a responsible Parliament to assist the SABC, especially if the government was funding them.

Mr Kekana agreed with Mr Tseli and asked the Chair if a workshop could be organised to educate Members on these entities and how Parliament engaged with them in addition to how recommendations were adopted on this platform. The SABC was wholly owned by the public, and if parliamentarians continued to speak on the parliamentary platform without the necessary knowledge, it became publicly dangerous. He emphasised that such a workshop would assist members from making dangerous public statements.

Ms Van Schalkwyk said that the Committee’s ideas on what issues persisted and how to address them had changed since the oversight visit – which showed the need for such activity and that the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations would assist in ensuring the negative perceptions the public may have had would be addressed.

Ms Tsotetsi replied that there were reasons why the Committee conducted oversight visits and through oversight visits, there were findings that could assist in developing better ways of operating. Where the Committee found positives bodies would be congratulated, and where there were negatives, it would investigate and act on the matters viewed as problematic. The Committee had to ensure that they were vocal about negligence especially where it concerned public funds.

Mr Davis said the way to fix the SABC related issues was through looking at the underlying causes, not by focusing on how to change the public perception of their work through public relations, and if given the time, he would have liked to provide recommendations on the matter.

Ms Tsotetsi referred to 11.1 (viii) on page 26 on Afrikaans speakers, welcomed the increase of Afrikaans content, and asked when the Committee agreed to that.

Ms R Van Schalkwyk (ANC) replied that the point referred to the discussion with the SABC about non-white Afrikaans speaking citizens that reflected that there was not enough content that catered towards their preferences.

Ms Tsotetsi said the wording used in the recommendation was misleading and that the manner in which it was written connoted different meanings.

The Chairperson replied that the recommendation was based on the outcome of the oversight visit and to change it would change the outcome of the oversight visit.

Ms D Tsotetsi (ANC) suggested that the word ‘improving’ be used instead of ‘Increased’.

The Chairperson asked Ms Van Schalkwyk to please repeat how to better inform the sentence as per the outcome of the oversight visit.

Ms Van Schalkwyk reiterated that the sentiment was expressed by the public broadcaster itself and is not a matter of bias but or research they have conducted themselves on the matter.

The Chairperson allowed for a proposal on how to restructure the sentence better.

Ms Tsotetsi suggested the inclusion of the words ‘To improve the use of Afrikaans content’

Mr Davis proposed the Minister refrain from interfering from the work of the SABC board (and stated that he was happy to prove the proof supporting the basis of this statement through emails) and to reinstate the illegally dismissed board members

Mr Kekana replied that the Committee had already spoken on the matter and the need for proof composite in the recommendation and proceeded to make reference to the recommendation and it being “thrown in the toilet”.

The Committee erupted in disproval of Mr Kekana’s choice of language.

The Chairperson proceeded to warn Mr Kekana regarding the use of language in the meeting.

Mr Kekana apologised for his statement.

Ms Tsotetsi requested that the apology reflect on the minutes and that it was unacceptable for a Member to use the language in the meeting.

Mr Davis said that regardless of what Krish Naidoo said in the meeting, the Committee should table something in the recommendations that spoke to the matter for future reference.

The Chairperson replied that it would be difficult to speak to the matter if its accuracy could not be determined without sufficient evidence in the oversight report. She moved on recommendations to the Minister on page 26.

Ms Van Schalkwyk proposed that the recommendation be inserted that spoke to the investigation into the finances of community radio stations and the expenditure thereof, due to the outcomes of the oversight visits detailed in the report.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Van Schalkwyk for the recommendation and noted its importance due to the issues highlighted in the report regarding the finances of community radio stations such as ALEX-FM on pages 26-27.

Ms Tsotetsi agreed with Ms R Van Schalkwyk

The Chair noted and proceeded

Mr Tseli asked if it were possible to remove the word ‘suspicion’ on age 27 and suggested that the wording be changed to ‘the information provided needed to be verified or was unsatisfactory’.

Mr Davis agreed with Mr Tseli on the use of the word ‘suspicious’

The Chairperson agreed, adopted the change and thanks members for their contributions

Mr R Tseli (ANC) proposed that the adjourning of the meeting be a new paragraph on its own to explain the decisions reached and what needed to be consulted on in order for the report to be fully adopted

The Chairperson agreed and asked if the draft could be put forward for adoption, including the motion proposed by Ms Van Schalkwyk.

The report was adopted.

SABC and its board members
The Chairperson raised the matter of the issue regarding the SABC and its board members and stated that she would consult on the matter and report back to the committee

Mr Davis asked the Chairperson whom she would be consulting on the matter if they were the body that had the power to take decisions without consultation.

The Chairperson responded that she would be consulting with the Chair of Chairs, and although the Committee took decisions regarding these matters, they were also liable to other bodies of Parliament. As soon as she had received guidance on the matter, she would report back to the committee. The issue of ICASA needed to be referred to the subcommittee and then reported back to the Portfolio Committee on Communications. She asked if the request could be made to the subcommittee to mandate the issues raised and report back to the committee. Ms Tsotetsi seconded this motion. The Chairperson stated that the dates of when the report was due would be conveyed to the subcommittee.

The meeting was adjourned.


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