The meeting began with the Chairperson singling out the Democratic Alliance’s Ms P van Damme, for notifying the media that the Committee had decided at a previous meeting to have an inquiry into the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). He made it clear that he alone spoke for decisions of the Committee and stated that it had only discussed the need for an inquiry. Ms Van Damme disputed this and quoted ANC Members to the effect that they had agreed to the proposed inquiry. The Members restated their positions as being in favour of hearing the SABC first, before determining a need for an inquiry.
The Minister of Communications’ briefing covered several areas, including:
- Contextualising the debate within the broader narrative of the transformation of South Africa.
- Referral to the repeated theme in the media around the problems at the SABC, but noting that these issues had existed before the present Board.
- Acknowledging the importance of public participation, but viewing with circumspection a memorandum from the DA expressing its support for four suspended journalists.
- Regarding with suspicion the protests by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the Right2Know campaign on the eve of the Department of Communications’ media transformation colloquium, as being designed to distract the Department.
- Stating that the SABC’s editorial policy complied with the prescripts of the Broadcasting Act, including being put forward for public comment.
- Editorial policy was distinguished from editorial decisions, such as the one taken to not broadcast violent protests.
- The main complaint by Media Monitoring Africa had been around the decision to ban the broadcasting of violent protest, but the ICASA decision had been against the pre-emptive ban of an entire category of programming, as opposed to the editorial policy. Further, the decision was in line with the injunctions against the broadcasting of violence in the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa’s code.
- On the suspended journalists, id the cases before the Labour Court had been settled, with seven of the eight employees having returned to work.
- The financial position of the SABC had seen government produce a guarantee of R1.47 billion. R1 billion had been issued to the SABC and the SABC had managed to pay this back. Further, the SABC had managed to resolve 90% of the issues raised around its audit by the Auditor General. It was also a going concern, despite posting a loss from the previous year.
- She congratulated the SABC for the implementation of its local content policy and its contribution to the broader economy.
The SABC Board’s representative concurred with several points raised by the Minister, and added that if the SABC were in the dire straits claimed, it would not be complying with its reporting requirements, such as annual reports of financial statements. Further, if there truly was ‘chaos at the SABC,’ its programming would be off air, but this was not the case. The SABC had managed to broadcast the elections with no further funding from the state, due to the efforts of its management. The entity would be supported in its pursuit of local content and programming in more official languages.
The SABC management focussed on the financial position of the SABC and its reporting thereon. It explained the history of the SABC’s audits, coming from a disclaimed audit, with several findings, to an audit with just one qualification. Further, the importance of viewing the SABC as an entity with a public service mandate was necessary, because providing coverage of events of national interest such as the elections or the Olympics was costly, and did not generate much revenue. This did not make commercial sense, but this was necessary for a public broadcaster. It also dealt with the need for transformation of the finance team at the SABC, and its need to be reinforced with chartered accountants.
Discussion saw Members raise issues including:
- The difference between the actual situation at the SABC, and the perspective presented by the media.
- The position of the SABC, with regard to it being either a public broadcaster or a government broadcaster;
- The reasons the SABC had committed to publishing a draft editorial policy, but had then failed to do so.
- The need for the SABC to deal with matters which came into the public domain, whether they were breaches of confidentiality or leaked information.
- The reasons for the resignations and suspensions of the SABC’s former acting chief executive officers.
The Committee formally decided that an inquiry was not necessary at the present point, with Ms Van Damme saying she would make it clear that the ANC Members, after fully supporting the inquiry the previous week, had clearly received instructions from Luthuli House and were now going back on that. They were failing in their duty as Members to conduct oversight. They were instead protecting people who had failed in their duties.
Dispute over Committee’s decision on SABC inquiry
The Chairperson said he wanted to clarify some issues arising from the previous meeting of the Committee. In the last meeting of the Committee Members had discussed its programme, for confirmation by the House Chairperson responsible for Committees (the House Chairperson). Afterwards he had received a lot of calls from the media, saying that the Committee had decided on some issues, even before he had issued a statement or communicated with the media. This had been done by the Democratic Alliance (DA), and it had to be made clear that after a meeting of the Committee, it was the Chairperson who spoke on behalf of the Committee and no one else. From now on that must be dealt with, because he had been told that Ms P van Damme (DA) had been responsible.
He had clarified the issues with the media, and the most interesting question from them had been around Ms Van Damme’s statement that the Committee had decided to have an inquiry into the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). In discussing its programme, the Committee looks at issues suggested, agrees with them and sends them for confirmation and scheduling by the House Chairperson. The request being made by the Committee was in the minutes of the last meeting. The Committee had been clear in its discussions that it would have to request more time from the House Chairperson to deal with the SABC and entities of the Department of Communications (DOC). The Committee was concerned about having the present meeting for only a few hours and, like any other committee, it had decided to request more time.
The proposal for the inquiry had indeed come from the DA, and it was in the Rules of the National Assembly, but presently the Committee was meeting the Department to hear what they had to say about the issues around the SABC and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. The inquiry, as he had explained to the media, was allowed by the Rules, and the Committee would request this from the House Chairperson. He wanted Members to be clear on what was communicated around what was raised in meetings, and what was decided in meetings. He noted Ms Van Damme wanted to respond, as he had raised what she had said, but he was unsure whether the Committee ought to engage on these opening remarks, as this matter was in the minutes and would be dealt with when the Committee processed them.
Ms Van Damme said the Chairperson has raised some points which she felt she had to correct. She wanted to clarify matters from her side as well. Firstly, it was correct that she had not spoken on behalf of the Committee; she had spoken on behalf of the DA. She had asked for the inquiry, and had then simply reported to the media and constituents about that request. She was disappointed that there seemed to be backtracking from what the Committee had agreed upon. The Committee had agreed that an inquiry was necessary. She had listened to a recording of that meeting, because she knew other Members would say they had not agreed. She quoted the Chairperson as saying: “I am agreeing with the SABC matters, they were matters that have been with the SABC from the first election campaign and many things have happened. We need to deal with them beyond Tuesday, and I think there was agreement that there needs to be an enquiry”. From that point, the Chairperson had indicated he would consult with the House Chairperson, which she agreed with. However, the House Chairperson did not have to approve the content of the meetings, to which the Committee had agreed. It was up to the House Chairperson only to help determine issues of scheduling. The Committee had also discussed perhaps pushing back the Film and Publications Board (FPB) hearings, and using that time for an enquiry. She was disappointed that there appeared to be backtracking on an inquiry which was absolutely necessary. There was utter chaos at the SABC, and Members would be failing dismally in their constitutional duty to deal with this issue in only a few hours, and not take it beyond that.
The Chairperson said the SABC was here, and the idea of exploring having an inquiry after hearing them was different from deciding to hold the enquiry. It was also different from exploring what the DA had said with the House Chairperson. He asked for the Committee to agree that it did not agree with Ms Van Damme.
Ms Van Damme said the Committee had agreed that an inquiry ought to take place, and if the Committee was deciding against this, it had to have a discussion about it. The Committee had absolutely all agreed.
Mr M Kalako (ANC) said that if he remembered the deliberations well, especially what he had said, he had said Committees did have that right under the Rules, and the Committee had done this previously. He thought the agreement had been that the SABC would be coming to the Committee. Members could not jump into to an inquiry because of media reports. Entities reported to the Committee, and Members could call the SABC, or whatever entity was involved. It could then deliberate on the issues which were in the public domain and if necessary, after those deliberations, it could call for an enquiry. He had even said that process would have to go to the House Chairperson, in line with Parliamentary process. So when the Committee institutes, Parliament assists. That had not been, in his understanding, a decision to institute an inquiry, but rather that after meeting with the SABC, if necessary, the Committee would take this process. That was his understanding of the discussions. The Committee would follow the due process.
The Chairperson said this could be explored after the Committee has listened to the SABC.
Ms Van Damme said Mr Kalako was also backtracking, and this was why she had gone to the recording to write down exact quotes, because she had anticipated the backtracking. She quoted Mr Kalako as saying: “Thank you, Chair. I think, Chair, I do not know which issue you were dealing with before you, but I think the SABC requires special attention. I do not think this was a matter which we could do in just a day -- we need to do thorough work when dealing with the SABC so that we are clear on issues. As she (Ms Van Damme) was saying, some of these things come from a long time ago. We need to move with them and close them completely. So if between the management and staff, you were able to fit in an inquiry, please do so.” Mr Kalako had not said that first the SABC must be listened to -- he had fully supported the need for an enquiry. Why were the Members backtracking?
The Chairperson asked to move off of this matter, because Members did not have the same understanding of the issues.
Ms Van Damme said she had not been the only person who had understood it that way, as journalists at the meeting had also understood it that way. Before moving on, she asked for clarity on what the ANC Members would like to do about the inquiry. It was on record, it was in the Minutes and she had quoted verbatim what Members had said. So the Committee should be clear on where it stood on the inquiry.
The Chairperson said presently the Committee would be listening to the SABC. Ms Van Damme did not know what they would say and the Committee should wait to hear first. He did not know what Ms Van Damme wanted from Members to say before listening to the Department. Having listened to the Department, Members could say whatever they wanted to.
Briefing by Minister of Communications
Ms Faith Muthambi, Minister of Communications, said South Africa was going through a process of profound social transformation and the question was, how did the SABC balance the provision of information, education and entertainment with the upholding of the moral fibre of society. The broader debate which the country should have, was what kind of society did it want to see reflected on its small screens. She said this, because the SABC was legislated and was therefore expected to contribute to democracy, the development of society, gender equality, nation building, the provision of education and strengthening the spiritual fibre of this society. This demanded that the Broadcasting Act also included the development of local programming content, which was part of the government’s overall policy in the creative industry, called Mzansi Golden.
Ms Muthambi had noted, with interest, the media headlines which had driven a narrative that the Ministry ought to have interfered in the affairs of the SABC. There had been a group of people, some of whom had worked at the SABC in the past, calling for the Minister to intervene. They were today acting as though the operations of the SABC had not been marred with challenges when they had been at the helm of the SABC. The truth was that some of the former SABC executives had actually presided over the SABC, and the corporate governance challenges being addressed today dated back to their tenure. Just the previous night, she had been informed of a petition being taken to the Ministry’s Pretoria offices by the Right2Know campaign, and that some would be protesting outside Parliament. It was interesting to note that when the mainstream print media took a negative posture in their coverage of government, none of these NGOs marched to print media buildings to demand that there be fair and just coverage of South African stories.
Ms Muthambi said one of the unquestionable obligations of any Minister was to encourage public participation in all sectors of society on any mater which affected their portfolio. It was, however, inappropriate to receive a letter, as she had received from the former SABC employees, who at the same time had sent or leaked the letter to the media. She was not saying people did not have the constitutional right to write to the Minister, or to write open letters, she was just surprised at the failure to understand the protocol involved when one wanted to be taken seriously. Every person had the right to peaceful protest, as guaranteed by section 17 of the Constitution.
She reported to the Committee that on 19 July 2016 she received a petition from the DA with several demands. She was shocked that the memorandum, petition or correspondence – contrary to the procedure on such matters --had not included the date, timelines and grace period within which the Department was to respond. Regardless, it had responded to the DA within seven days of receipt. It was correct that the procedures followed by the DA had been flawed, as petitions to Parliament should be directed to the Speaker of the National Assembly who, based on the content of the petition, directs it to the Portfolio Committee responsible. They had petitioned the Minister instead. She believed that the DA’s memorandum had achieved what the DA as a party stood for -- the protection of white interests and, in this case, protection of white journalists at the SABC. She quoted the DA memorandum: we support only the four of the suspended journalists” and they named: Jacques Steenkamp, Foeta Krige, Suna Venter and Krivani Pillay.
Ms Muthambi said the change from an oppressive and exploitative apartheid epoch into a new era of freedom in South Africa had been elevated in law by the Constitution, which “the DA preaches from and then interprets selectively as though others do not have rights”. Members would all agree that the adoption of the Constitution had created a new sense of hope and belief in the country’s citizens, which had been welcomed with a lot of expectation. In this regard, all institutions which had been exclusively for the minority had been expected to embrace the inclusivity of a diverse country in all spheres of life: ideologically, politically, socially and economically. However, it was interesting to note that this petition by the Right2Know was on the eve of the DOC’s Print Media Transformation Colloquium, and was meant to distract the attention and focus of the Department. On the contrary, matters surrounding the SABC were to be dealt with by Parliament. The Ministry had acceded to the Committee’s instructions to brief it under section 55 of the Constitution and Rules. It therefore found the planned petitions suspicious, in that the Department was being petitioned on a matter which had been raised in Parliament. It was on this score that the Ministry had since written to the Chairperson’s office, inviting Members to be part of the colloquium.
Ms Muthambi said the debate on the SABC news editorial policy had to be debated within the law that governed the Corporation. The affairs of the SABC were governed by the Broadcasting Act, particularly section 6. This section provided for the charter of the corporation, to which it had to comply. The SABC was required under the Act to develop the news and editorial policies. It also made provision for the SABC to ensure that there was public participation in the development of such policy, by inviting and considering public comment on draft policies. This process, as required by section 5 (a) of the Act, had been complied with by the SABC to ensure compliance with its licence conditions in relation to the news editorial policy. A public consultation had been undertaken as part of the initial review process in 2013, and early 2104. In the preparation of the policy, the SABC board had ensured that there was sufficient public participation and input, in line with sections 6 and 7 of the Act, as part of the SABC’s role to uphold the letter of the law. Stakeholder engagements had been held with more than 30 organisations and interests groups across the country. This had been followed by 17 public hearings, with each province hosting at least one. Almost 2 000 people had attended these hearings, public consultations had been advertised on SABC platforms and selected print media.
The SABC had received 216 written submissions from individuals and organisations. In addition to the proposed amendments to the editorial policy, it had also been translated into all 11 official languages and placed on the website of the SABC, which was public knowledge. The policy had been approved by the SABC board and, as required by section 5 of the Act, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) had been notified in writing. Stakeholders, including political parties, had all been afforded the opportunity to comment on the draft policy. What had been witnessed pre-elections was undue pressure on the part of certain sections of society to foist changes on the already approved policy. She believed that if allowed, it would have eroded and influenced the editorial independence of the SABC.
The SABC was encouraged to ensure development by providing a wide range of programming in South African official languages that reflected South African ideas, values, opinions and artistic creativity. It also had to display South African talent in education and entertainment, offer a plurality of views and a variety of news information and analysis from a South African point of view, and advance the national and public interests. In line with its public broadcasting mandate, which was to inform, educate and entertain, the SABC had a role to ensure it contributed towards nation building and social cohesion in the Republic.
Ms Muthambi said at this point, one had to distinguish between the editorial policy and editorial decisions in different news rooms, including at the SABC. The editorial decision, not editorial policy, was in the Ministry’s view also in line with section 16 of the Constitution in limiting freedom of expression. Section (2) (a -c) stipulated that freedom of expression did not extend to propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence, or advocacy of hatred that was based on race, ethnicity, religion and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. In the same vein, the Act in section 2 (a) required that the SABC establish a broadcasting policy to contribute to democracy, the development of society, gender equality, nation building, the provision of education and the strengthening of the moral fibre of society. In addition, in section 2 (r), there were requirements for the SABC to produce local broadcasting content.
The main complaint by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) against the SABC appeared to be against the decision to stop coverage of violent protests. MMA argued that this was in breach of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, as well the SABC’s licensing conditions. In light of the Complaints Compliance Committee (CCC) of ICASA’s judgment, the Ministry did not think that the SABC had erred in its decision. However, rephrasing the decision would have swayed the CCC. Its judgment had noted that “in print media in South Africa, the Constitutional Court held that an effective ban or restriction on a publication by a court order, even before it has seen the light of day, was something to be approached with circumspection and only in narrow circumstances”. The CCC judgment acknowledged that the SABC had the power to limit content in appropriate circumstances, where it amounted to a contravention of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa’s (BCCSA’s) code or, in times of election, where a broadcast was in conflict with sections of the Electronic Communications Act dealing with elections. However, it had no authority in law to ban an entire category of material in advance.
The broadcasting code did place certain limits on the screening of violence. However, that code may be applied only when a complaint is made to the relevant institution, be that the BCCSA or CCC, and after a broadcast, which was clear from section 53(2). Furthermore, the Act was clear as to the broadcast of violence. It did not prohibit the mere broadcasting of violence, but it depended on the manner in which it was broadcast. In clause 11, the news clause stated that “broadcasting services must advise viewers in advance of the scenes or reporting of extraordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate matters such as sexual assault, or court action related to sexual crime, particularly during afternoon or early evening updates or newscasts. Broadcasting service licencees must not include graphic or explicit language related to news of destruction, accidents or sexual violence which could disturb children or sensitive audiences, except when it was in the public interest to include such material.”
In addition, clause 3 of the code, which was applicable mainly to broadcasts other than news, provided that “broadcasting services’ licencees must not broadcast material which, when judged in context, contains violence which does not play an integral role in developing the plot, character or theme of the material as a whole; or sanctions, promotes or glamorises violence or unlawful conduct.” This was the argument made by the CCC in the judgment of the editorial decision of the SABC, which was subsequently accepted by ICASA. The issue was the provision for an absolute ban on violence, which was what the editorial decision had. While the editorial decision debatable, the SABC was not alone in the pursuit of news and current affairs programming. As this related to the daily processing of news which involved news gathering, verification of facts and editing procedures, the SABC was not alone in making editorial decisions. The letter and subsequent radio interviews by Ms Phakamile Hlubi, a former eNCA journalist, had been a reference point. Her letter, making allegations of the manipulations of news, including how they were instructed on how to present themselves regarding the dress code, had not made headlines on eNCA, e-TV or print media. This also exhibited symptoms of editorial decisions, or censorship, as they now called it.
Ms Muthambi said the implementation plan on the ruling of ICASA’s compliance and complaints committee regarding the monitoring project had no implications, other than the SABC complying with ICASA’s ruling. A letter had been communicated to ICASA in that regard, since the SABC’s editorial decision had since been reversed. This had to be debated within the context of the laws which governed the SABC. The SABC was governed by the Broadcasting Act, particularly section 6, which provided for the charter with which the SABC must comply. How the SABC conducted itself and fulfilled its responsibility also had to resonate with its standing and influence in society. Therefore, the debate currently taking place in the country must be viewed in the context of the SABC contributing towards building a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic society. At the apex of this was the shaping of the public perception of themselves, and creating patriotism among South Africans. The Act also provided that the Board, as the accounting authority, managed the affairs of the SABC. The Board was supported by the executive committee of the corporation, which manages the day to day operations, not the Minister.
The SABC suspension cases before the Labour Court had been settled, with seven of the eight employees having returned to work. The exception was the case which involved a freelancer, who was also a contributing editor. The other matters before the Constitutional Court were sub judicae.
Regarding the above cases’ financial impact on the SABC, the Minister said there were no cases before any court in the country regarding the editorial policy. The Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) was very clear on the submission times for annual reports and audited financial statements, and the deadline was 30 September. The Ministry did not want to question the wisdom of the Committee’s inclusion of this item, as it precluded the discussions which took place at the tabling of annual reports. At the same time, the Ministry wanted to give an assurance of its willingness for transparency and accountability.
The SABC was involved in legal disputes through its normal course of business. The outcome of these legal claims may have a material effect on the SABC’s overall financial position and the results of its operation. Due to the uncertain nature of these issues, any changes in the estimates due to new information coming to light could result in material changes to the financial statements. The SABC had spent over R256 million on legal claims by the end of the financial year, which was an increase from the previous year. In addition, it had planned for contingent liabilities, which were comprised of claims lodged by third parties which may, in some cases, be reduced by counterclaims for insurance.
Referring to the financial position of the SABC and its foreseeable impact on its operations, the Minister said Members would recall that when the Zuma administration had taken over in 2009, the SABC’s financial health had been in tatters. It had experienced a governance crisis in late 2007, when there had been alleged interference in the appointment of the board and executives. During this crisis, in particular during the 2008/09 financial year, the SABC had lost R910 million and had been forced to seek external funding. This had been necessary so that the operational broadcasting requirements to the public could be sustained while a turnaround strategy was being conceptualised, to ensure that future potential corporate governance crises did not revisit the SABC. On 24 November 2009, the government had announced its approval of a bond guarantee of R1.47 billion. Of this, R1 billion had been released to the SABC, and this had subsequently been paid back by the SABC, which had met almost all of the tight conditions imposed.
There were matters to be referred to the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA) to be investigated by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), as per Parliament’s 2009 instructions. The SABC’s governance and audit had had to deal with the historical issues, including that it had not had an unqualified audit since then. In this regard, the SABC sought to address matters previously raised by the AG, while balancing the provision of its services as required by law. The Board, assisted by management, had resolved more than 90% of the issues raised by the AG.
Ms Muthambi referred to the drop in revenue enhancement, and said she wanted to assure Members that the SABC was a going concern, and had the liquidity of a going concern. The SABC had lost R411 million from the previous year’s R1 billion cash in its account. The Ministry was not happy with the millions being lost, but it knew that the SABC was reinvesting the amounts in local content. The SABC had invested millions in the economy, beyond the R500 million it paid annually to Sentec for signal distribution. The SABC spent millions in procuring local content, with a particular focus on areas outside of Gauteng, which had been the focus in the past. The creative industry was identified by Mzansi Golden’s economic policy as having the greatest potential for job creation and employment in the sector. The Ministry therefore congratulated the SABC Board and management for their foresight with the introduction of the 90% local content requirement to all platforms.
The Minister said the SABC had lived up to its mandate and provided live coverage of the debates leading up to the election, and the election itself. She had never heard anyone congratulate the SABC for doing so, even though not a single cent had been given to the SABC, even though elections fell within the public mandate to be funded by government. The SABC on its own raised had raised R30 million to fund the coverage of the local election, as no allocation had been made by National Treasury.
On the government subsidy for concessionary TV licence holders, said the SABC had resolved all governance issues around the TV licence database. This had not been easy, and the Ministry wanted to congratulate them for this effort. It was contrary to the previous situation, where the SABC would send letters of demand to deceased or unemployed people. There was also a need to celebrate the concessionary television licence which was given at a discounted tariff to two licence holder categories, in accordance with the Broadcasting Act and TV licence regulations. These included persons over 70 years and those receiving social grants. The SABC’s database currently showed over 796 000 households with concessionary TV licences, qualifying for the fee of only R70 and not the fee of R200. The SABC was effectively subsidising concessionary TV licence holders, which was estimated at around R143 million in revenue.
Briefing by South African Broadcasting Corporation
Dr Ndivhoniswani Tshidzumba, Board Member: SABC, said he was representing the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Corporation. He chaired the committee on broadcasting. When the Board was appointed, it had been charged with a turnaround strategy for the SABC. The first priority was to pay back the debt of R1.4 billion, which the management had been tasked to assist with, and this had been paid back. Secondly, the Board had to deal with all matters mentioned by the AG in its audit. This had been done, and Members would see when the Annual Report was tabled that there was only one technical issue, which the SABC had started to address late.
The Board chairperson had been appointed by the Committee and entrusted to oversee the SABC. He was a professor, and the deputy chairperson was an advocate. He therefore could not see any issue about which this Committee could now complain to the public, if a Committee of this calibre entrusted people of that calibre to manage their company.
Perhaps it would be good to define what was meant by the term “public broadcaster.” The public broadcaster was not a private company, or independently owned -- it was a publicly-owned company. It was owned by government, because government as a public institution represented the public, so it was owned by Committees like this one. The only shareholder was the government, through the Department of Communications.
Dr Tshidzumba said that as the Minister had indicated, the SABC had received no accolades for delivering the local government elections. Media reports had indicated that with Hlaudi Motsoeneng at the SABC, the elections would not be covered. However, today everyone was smiling, because it had managed to cover the elections and had been the only broadcaster which had covered the elections at that magnitude. It had been the only broadcaster which was in every community, bringing election debates through the radio. No political party had complained in those villages. The SABC had just as successfully delivered the Olympic Games, but the SABC had not received any accolades, although South Africans had been watching the Olympics. For the first time in the history of the SABC, the European Games had been delivered. The mandate of national interest, as the mandate of the SABC, was, in the main, not budgeted for. These were the funds being raised by the SABC management. If all these events constituted chaos at the SABC, then there was another definition of chaos which must be shared with the public. If successes within a company were equal to chaos, then one was living in a different world.
Dr Tshidzumba said he had been chief executive officer (CEO) of government entities and state owned enterprises (SOEs). If an SOE were in chaos, it would not submit quarterly reports, financial statements or annual reports. These were his experiences as a CEO of entities within government. All of these statements and reports had been submitted to the Committee by the SABC since the present Board had been appointed. When stories were written in the media, people were being informed. In his experience, when enquiries were made into state entities, it was when they were not complying with their reporting requirements, such as annual reports or financial statements. All the people who had mentioned that the SABC had not submitted certain matters to the Committee for the purpose of compliance, should submit a list of them to the Board so that they could be followed up. The Board’s job was to oversee such compliance. If reports were not being submitted, or the SABC was not appearing before the Committee when called, then the Board should be made aware.
Mr Tshidzumba said the AG was satisfied, because from the 26 findings that had been made when Board was appointed, the present annual report had only one. He thanked the AG for assisting the SABC to achieve this. The AG was not a private company, so it could not be said that the Board bribed the AG. All government departments were audited by the AG, and the SABC had been following all its advice.
Regarding editorial policy, the Board followed all the prescripts required by the Act. The SABC management had issued a statement which was not in the policy, which was why none of the people who commented on the editorial policy could quote the statement from the policy. Even ICASA could not quote the statement which was made by SABC management on the editorial policy. In a newsroom, when editors sat in their daily diary meetings, it was their job to hear about stories which they did not like. As editors, it was their job to eliminate stories which did not comply with the values and norms within the company. This happened in any newsroom’s editorial meetings. That was why there were editors in every newsroom -- senior journalists who were entrusted with selecting stories.
Mr Tshidzumba said if there was chaos at ESKOM, then there was load-shedding. If there was chaos at the Post Office, then people did not receive post. If there was chaos at the SABC, then Metro FM and SABC 1 should be off air. None of the SABC’s stations had been off air, through all the ‘chaos’ which had been mentioned in media reports. The SABC had never had the unions take the employees out on strike. Since the SABC had paid off its debt, the unions had now brought forward submissions for annual increases on their bonuses and salaries. The SABC was doing that, and the unions were cooperative. It had been submitted to the Board that as the SABC was financially healthy, there was room to negotiate and the SABC was doing that every year, just like any other company. While the SABC had been servicing its debt, there had been no liberty to negotiate, because there had been no money.
The funding of all that the SABC had achieved, to broadcast all that had been broadcast and events of national interest, had taken place with the management’s cooperation. Mr James Aguma, Acting Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) and Mr Motsoeneng had been veterans through the Board’s term. This industry was people-based, and that was why some broadcasters in the private sector were in chaos, because that was how the industry worked. Historically, in South Africa this was not everyone’s industry. So when talking of negotiations for sports rights, one needed a “Mr Hlaudi” to be there, or when negotiating a commercial right to content, one needed ‘Ms X’ to be there. When these names are mentioned, it is perceived as if the Board was favouring them or something, but they were the management and it had tasked them with this. The Board had proven evidence that where these individuals were sent to negotiate rights, they came back with savings. Mr Aguma would add to what the Minister had said, especially on the financials.
The SABC was very healthy financially. Hence the Board still stated that if this Committee, representing this government, was fully funding the SABC, a lot could happen, especially with the local content strategy being launched. The SABC wanted to launch channels which represented official languages.
Mr Aguma, SABC, said he would talk only to the last slide of the presentation, which related to the SABC’s financial position. The Minister had indicated that the SABC had not tabled the 2015/16 annual financial statements, so the SABC could not have a discussion at this meeting, because it would be against the requirements of the PFMA to discuss a document which had not been formally tabled. However, the SABC had attended an annual general meeting held by the Minister and the annual report and financial statements hadbeen discussed, so the SABC would be talking to the details of that report when it was tabled by the Minister.
It has become a norm that on a Thursday or Friday, he would get an e-mail from the press saying that they were in possession of an internal document, or a document had been leaked, and it wanted a response. Some of these had been extracts from the annual financial statements. The SABC had taken a position that it would not comment on information which has been leaked, as it did not make sense to comment on documents which had been received unlawfully. The SABC had a code of ethics which includes confidentiality, and internal staff were leaking this information. Because of the leakage of this information and the inability of the people engaged in the leaking to fully understand financial statements, they tended to inflate the degree of what was characterised as chaos at the SABC. The SABC would obey the law, which was the PFMA, when it came to financial statements. Further, it would follow the process of explaining what was contained in the financial statements as required by the PFMA. If a quarterly report was released, then the SABC would come to the Committee to discuss it. It would not use side routes to explain these issues, irrespective of whether they included misstatements.
Mr Aguma said ‘chaos’ was a very interesting word, and was always one which was used by someone with a particular frame of mind. He wanted to limit his discussion of chaos to the SABC’s financial position. One needed to understand that before 2013, the SABC had been audited by private audit firms. If one read the Public Audit Act, it said that the AG was the auditor of every government institution, but as part of their corporate social responsibility, the SABC had allocated part of their budget to private firms. Before 2013, the SABC had had a couple of qualifications around irregular expenditure and the like. In 2013, a decision had been taken that the AG would take over the audit of the SABC. He had been part of the AG’s team, and had been senior audit manager for eight years. When he was recruited by the SABC to deal with these problems, he had immediately indicated that there were issues with the financial information. Management needed to take a position on the state of assets. It needed to know how many assets the SABC had, where they were and who owned them. Something else was that the SABC was a tax-paying entity, but its tax risk was not being managed. Another issue picked up was accounting for TV licences, which was being accounted for on a cash basis, and therefore it was understating revenue. The policy which he had requested showed certain gaps regarding supply chain practices. If the law was not followed, then expenditure could be irregular and/or wasteful.
Mr Aguma said he was painting this picture of 2013 in order for Members to see that the issues raised by the AG in 2013 must have existed before then. For example, assets had not been counted for over six years before that audit report. In order to understand the SABC’s issues, one had contextualise them There was a narrative which asserted that this Board and management had caused these problems. However, if something had not been counted for six years, one could not blame the current management. The current management was responsible for remedying those issues, which was what it had done. In 2013 the Board had instructed management to draw up an audit performance improvement plan. Having come from the AG, he had had that experience and the team had written up the audit improvement plan which had been implemented in the subsequent years. That audit improvement plan had had to deal with nine qualification paragraphs. In 2012, there had been two qualifications, and the following year there were nine qualifications. Those experienced in auditing would know that one can not move from two qualifications to nine without a system crash resulting in the loss of the data. It meant that the issues which had been brought to the fore in 2013 had already been there many years before.
Mr Aguma said these issues needed to be unpacked. The SABC had been accounting for TV licences on a cash basis since the SABC started collecting TV licences. The database, which had just been cleaned in the current year, had been implemented in 1996. The question was, what had happened at that point and going forward -- who had allowed these things to happen? The audit improvement plan intended for these matters to be dealt with in stages, and the approach was to look internally. Given the nine qualifications, and looking internally, one had to ask whether there could have been a problem with internal skills in finance. The argument in the media was that the SABC was using consultants, despite there being internal skills. If someone reading a set of financial statements saw that 20% of its balance sheet was comprised of fixed assets, and this had not been counted for six years, what did this tell one about internal capabilities? International accounting standards state that a company must account for revenue on an accrual basis, but in 1996 a decision had been taken to account on a cash basis. He had advised the Board that the SABC needed to empower the finance team, but as a stop-gap measure, consultants would be appointed. The question was, if the problem had been caused by the current staff, what other option did one have? It was either train them or re-deploy them.
In 2013 there had been nine qualifications, and in 2014 the audit improvement plan had been implemented and five of the qualifications had been treated. The AG had picked up four additional ones, so the net reduction had been one finding. In 2013, the AG had decided to disclaim the financial statements, which meant the AG had looked at the financials and refused to give an opinion. In 2014, there had been eight qualifications, and the AG had decided that other than these, the financial statements were credible. In 2015, the eight had been reduced to three, so there had been an improvement. The AG reported that except for those three issues, one could rely on the financial statements.
The Minister had already talked about the current year, where the SABC had a financial statement, but he could not say what it was, as it was still to be tabled by the Minister. This was progress, and the credibility of the SABC’s information was being improved. However, at the same time, there was an unethical core of people at the SABC who choose to go against the code of ethics where it referred to confidentiality. One can not get confidential information of one’s employer and knowingly leak it, whatever one’s gripes are. This makes it difficult to come before the Committee to find the reports one is being questioned upon are from leaked information. This becomes a challenge, but the SABC was up to that challenge. The credibility of the SABC’s financial statements, as guaranteed by the AG’s report, were improving.
Commenting on the finance team, Mr Aguma he had picked up that there was a link between the quality of financial information and the staff members producing it. He had written to the Board, indicating the need to reinforce that team with chartered accountants. An instruction had gone out and the SABC was already in the process of short-listing. The reason for this was that chartered accountants were the apex of financial management knowledge. The SABC should get the best, so that the reports given to the Committee would be credible. Even the finance team was not properly transformed, and this was because of the history of this country, where it was an unwritten rule that senior positions in finance could not be managed by previously disadvantaged persons. That was a myth which could not be tolerated. The SABC had recruited the acting CFO, Ms Audrey Raphela, who was a chartered accountant, but he would not be surprised if in the Friday e-mails the SABC received allegations that she was not qualified. The SABC was going to transform the finance team, because that was the right thing to do, and no matter how many complaints went to the media. Transformation was not on the agenda, it was the agenda. Another field which was not transformed was technology, and the SABC was transforming this. The SABC’s engagements with some of the newspapers had claimed information from a senior source in finance, but his response had been that a senior source should know about confidentiality requirements. The senior sources were fearful of transformation, but it would happen.
Mr Aguma said he had heard about the SABC making losses and was in financial chaos. The SABC had a public mandate to broadcast events of national interest, which would not necessarily provide a positive return. An example was, if rights were bought, especially in the sports arena, the holders would set a price, but the revenue from these games saw the SABC getting back in certain instances R4 on an investment on R10. People who were looking at the SABC’s financial circumstances through a commercial prism were questioning these practices. The answer was that the SABC had no option, because ICASA had instructed the SABC to broadcast them. The SABC knows before it takes off from the blocks that it would lose R6 on a R10 investment. Since the Olympics had recently finished, it would be akin to pitting Wayde van Niekerk against himself in the 400m, but burdening him with a 10 kg bag on his back. That was what was running a public entity was like, and the 10kg bag in this case was the public mandate. The losses being spoken about were not losses -- they were the cost of delivering the public mandate.
He had had experience auditing the Department of Health and, for example, if one went to a public hospital and required a neurosurgical procedure, this could cost a minimum of R250 000 in a private hospital. The private hospital would bill one’s medical aid above this amount, including medicines, specialists and the like, and thereby realise a profit. Were Groote Schuur to do the same procedure, the cost would be the same, but the revenue generated -- because it was a public hospital -- could be limited to the minimal administered fee. So, looking through a commercial prism, one would say that Groote Schuur was making losses and was a disaster, but that was not a disaster -- that was the cost of a public mandate and it had no option but to deliver.
He had challenged his colleagues in the media to broadcast sports, where rights were bought for R90 million, knowing that only R20 million would be recovered. The management would not make it out of the boardroom, having been driven off by the shareholders. Unfortunately, the shareholder of the SABC was the public, so it had to deliver. The SABC was running a juggling game where funds were from commercial sources, but were deployed to the public good. Unfortunately, the cost of delivering the public good could not be managed, and the SABC was a net taker of the cost of sports rights. The past election coverage had been budgeted at R32 million, and the SABC had received no funds for it. If Mr Motsoeneng, who had become an object of interest in the media, had not raised R15 million, the SABC would have spent R30 million from its reserves.
If the SABC’s public mandate was not funded by the fiscus, what could the SABC do? The SABC was doing a lot of work to try and raise funds, which was where the strategic partnerships came in, and Mr Motsoneng was driving this. R1 billion had also been raised by Mr Motsoneng, just to plug that gap. He challenged anyone to say that they could deliver a profit at the SABC without cutting sports coverage and not broadcasting events of national interest. This was the first Board of the SABC which had consciously decided to invest in events of national interest, regardless of the cost. So when one looked at the losses, it was because the board had taken this conscious decision.
Arguments were that in 2013 there had been a profit, but one could not read these financial statements without first understanding what had been in the AG’s report. In 2013, the AG had disclaimed and walked away from the financial statements, without giving an opinion as they were too chaotic. Yet people claimed the profit was there, and it was now a benchmark of the press to argue that the SABC’s financial position was getting worse. How did someone disregard nine qualifications in a disclaimed set of financial statements, and point to a profit? With three qualifications the previous year, the SABC had posted a net loss of about R380 million, yet people continued to point to the profit in disclaimed financial statements, which the AG had expressly indicated were not reliable.
The SABC was going to continue delivering on its public mandate, but it had challenges with funding that mandate. The SABC thought that this should come from the fiscus, because they were events of national interest. From a commercial perspective, the SABC could deliver a profit the next day by simply switching off sport. This would lead to a R600 million profit, but at what cost to the public? The SABC could even switch of news, and there would be R1 billion in profit.
Mr Aguma closed by saying one needed to ask what exactly the problem at the SABC was, because people had framed certain problems.
Firstly, the SABC had heard of requests to lift the ban on the reading of newspaper headlines on SABC TV and radio. Newspapers were commercial entities and they wanted to sit on the SABC platforms to get free coverage. However, the SABC needed revenue and if the media wanted advertising at the SABC, it had to be paid for.
Secondly, the SABC gets asked about when it was going to sell 5 FM, or Metro FM, and when it was going to sell its property in Sea Point. How could the SABC sell its cash cows? He did not know if some of the information being leaked was to create a situation of chaos by having these questions answered in the affirmative.
The third issue was that the SABC was going to change the way it did acquisitions, because there had been no transformation, especially in the supply of technology and IT. The number of previously disadvantaged companies delivering in that space 22 years after democracy was not representative of the population. The SABC was saying that its balance sheet was being rationalised, to reflect the business of broadcasting. One of the issues being looked at were the post-retirement benefits, because this represented a liability of R1 billion, and should be investigated. It would be determined whether it made more sense to have a contribution plan or a defined benefit plan. When these kinds of things were raised, then journalists wanted to begin asking questions. So the SABC was going to make these changes, because they were the right thing to do.
Lastly, the Committee had heard about the four people who had been suspended, but were now back. The SABC had dismissed 123 employees for medical aid fraud. So the SABC was going to continue disciplinary measures against staff members went against the code of the SABC regarding fraud, or breaching confidentiality.
Ms S Van Schalkwyk (ANC) appreciated the broad overview and clarifications from the Minister, who was the accounting authority of the Department and the entities under her. Members expected her to perform her duties as required, including accounting for the entities and taking full blame for anything which happened within them. Given that the SABC was the public broadcaster, it should not shy away from certain things which had continuously been in the public domain recently. She asked the Minister and the SABC to enlighten the Committee about the SABC freelancer who, it was assumed, had not been reinstated. She also sought some insight into the resignation of Mr J Matthews. Under South African labour law, all employer institutions were required to adhere to the relevant legislation, and the SABC was no different. An observation which she had already made was the media frenzy around the eight employees’ dismissal, their suspension and reinstatement, but no one had said anything about the 123 employees who had been dismissed the previous year. The SABC was a very big organisation, with more than 5 000 employees, and it was recognised that at times it would need to enforce the disciplinary code and internal procedures must be followed. This should be respected from outside, but labour legislation must not be allowed to be flouted.
Mr M Kekane (ANC) said the clarity which had been given by the Minister, the SABC Board and management had been amazing, because South Africans were being misled. Journalists were leading the public to believe that there had been policy changes, while there had not been. There were only decisions by editors, which happened every day. However, people had gone to the media, chosen to be unpatriotic to the country, and had told lies. At times, it was true that such mishaps needed to be dealt with through our labour relations laws. However, people now claimed that the selection of stories was censorship. It was bad, if people wanted to capture the SABC through lies. It was clear that the DA would represent only four whites, but there were eight people who had been dismissed, although that was their right. What was needed in this country was to expose the lies. This Committee would not tolerate such behaviour, and would ensure that at all times it told the people the truth about what was happening in South Africa. Now Members knew where the SABC was, and he had been shocked to hear from the Board that its chairperson was a professor and the deputy was an advocate. Why had the public been told it was a bunch of uneducated people there? People were made to believe that Ms Raphela, who was a chartered accountant, was a standard five girl. This showed that this country had people with hidden agendas to discredit the government of the ANC. Perhaps Mr Aguma should unpack how the money was obtained, and where it was received from.
He thanked the management, especially Mr Motsoneng and Mr Aguma for ensuring that the SABC was supporting events of national interest. He had always thought that the government was funding the SABC to do such broadcasts. Now he knew that elections, VIP funerals and the like were through the SABC’s own efforts. The budget being appropriated for the SABC was only about R150 million. People deserved to know the truth. All other funds were being raised by the leadership of the SABC. Further, this was the first time the SABC had been run without large debts. In future, he hoped journalists would stick to their ethics and know exactly what they were reporting about, as the information being given by the Minister and the SABC was totally different to what had been presented in the media. He asked how management was going to deal with the banning of liquor advertisements, and what the expected financial impact of this would be, as these were often aired during prime time. Secondly, how many consultants were employed by the SABC? Lastly, how many vacancies were there in the Corporation?
Ms Van Damme said she did not know where to start, and a full scale inquiry into the SABC was needed. She could not in good conscience, as a Member elected to conduct oversight, go home and feel she had done her job. She did not feel that the situation at the SABC was right, and Members had to discharge their constitutional duty to conduct a proper inquiry. The Committee needed to invite the Minister, the full SABC board, industry stakeholders, NGOs and the unions. She was not satisfied with what she had heard. It was laughable that Mr Tshidzumba would come before the Committee and state the SABC must be lauded for doing their job – which was to ensure that SABC stations were on air. She was not going to celebrate the SABC for doing the bare minimum of their jobs.
The SABC board had failed dismally in its duty to conduct oversight over the SABC. In her opinion, all SABC representatives present should be fired, and the Committee should appoint a new board, which do its job, because the current board had failed to do so. There had been utter chaos -- and chaos was the right word -- during the elections. Staff had been fired, court cases had been lost, and decisions made about ‘canning’ shows. It was utter chaos, and rank amateur hour at the SABC, so she did not think the SABC should be congratulated. The SABC board did not deserve congratulations, as it had failed and failed dismally.
She found it appalling that the Minister had spent the first part of her presentation attacking the media and attacking NGOs. As Communications Minister, she was supposed to have a good working relationship with the media, and not be there to attack the media. If she felt that there wereproblems, she ought to address them, rather than by attacking. It was incorrect to say that the DA’s memorandum stated that it supported only white journalists. It was a lie, and Ms Muthambi knew this.
She said Mr Aguma had begun his presentation by saying he could not speak about the financials at the SABC, but had then spent a full half an hour speaking about them. She had a lot of questions about the finances at the SABC, to which she expected full answers. She had so many questions, but this meeting did not allow enough time to deal with all the issues at the SABC.
On the editorial policy, Ms Muthambi was once again misleading the public. The SABC had announced that there would be a revision of its editorial policy, and had conducted initial consultations, but afterwards the SABC had announced through a press statement that there would be a draft editorial policy published for public comment. That had never happened -- there had never been a draft policy put out, and the SABC had gone back on its commitment to public consultation. The initial consultation was not the issue, it was the subsequent statement that there would be a draft policy, which had never happened. Secondly, if she had not submitted a parliamentary question asking about the draft policy, the Minister would never have announced to the public that there was a new editorial policy. She had found out only months later, through the parliamentary question, that there was a new policy. That policy had been approved in secret. There had not been enough public consultation, and that was the truth. So her question was, why had no draft policy been published, as committed to by the SABC?
The Minister had made mention of R265 million in claims, but she had not caught on to what that was related to. Was it claims from dismissed staff, and could this be clarified? On the amounts set aside by the SABC for contingent liabilities, which fund did the SABC dip into when it went to court, which happened a lot? How much was this fund for contingent liabilities? How much had been spent on disciplinary matters at the SABC and on the court cases relating to Mr Motsoneng? There was an allegation that the SABC had concluded a settlement with the former acting CEO, Mr Frans Matlala. What was the settlement, and why had he been disciplined? To date the Minister, despite repeated questions, had refused to tell the Committee what the reason was for that CEO’s suspension. What happened, why was he given money, and how much? The SABC and the Minister could not keep that secret.
On the issue with CCC, and the ban on the coverage of violent protests, the Minister had said the CCC had found that the SABC had not erred in its decision. Had the Minister read the judgment, because the CCC had found the SABC to be quite wrong? What had been done since then to implement that judgment, and was the SABC now making sure that it gave the public full coverage of what was happening on the ground? She had many more questions and repeated that an inquiry was necessary.
Mr R Tseli (ANC) said if there were some Members who, while claiming to be representing the Committee, were pressing for an inquiry into the affairs of the SABC, “they must know upfront that they do not have our support”. From the presentation received, it was very clear that there was no reason to go that route. The Minister had referred to the DA’s memorandum, and it was indeed a shame that people who claimed to be representing a non-racial party had singled out Steenkamp, Venter, Krige and Pillay, out of the eight fired journalists at the SABC. It confirmed that this party represented the interests of white people. The DA talked about black people only when it wanted their votes, so it was high time that people knew the type of party being spoken about. His first question was prompted by the slide which spoke to the R30 million raised by the SABC through strategic partnerships, especially for election purposes. The ANC had taken a resolution around increments in the funding of the SABC, so that it would be able to execute its mandate very clearly. The Committee had also reiterated a resolution to attend to this issue. He would appreciate it if the Minister and SABC could be briefed on progress there. The Committee had also raised this matter strongly during the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR) process. Secondly, he asked the SABC to share its strategy on the collection of licence fees.
Dr P Mulder (FF+) said he had been a Member of this Committee for the first 15 years of democracy. He began by saying he does have problems with certain newspapers and commercial radio stations, for the censure that they applied. The difference was that one could stop buying them, but the SABC was different, as it was a public broadcaster and he was forced to pay a TV licence. It was public, meaning that it provided a service to everybody in the public. He would like to concentrate on the aspect of news policy and censorship. A news agency’s greatest asset was its credibility -- if that was lost, then it would be very difficult to get back. He was concerned that this was what was happening at the SABC. The debate had started around the issue of broadcasting of violence, and the instigation of violence by just having a camera there. He had been a professor in communications and journalism before he came into politics, and this was a valid debate. That could be debated, and surely there were some rules which could be applied.
He was afraid that only the tip of the iceberg had been seen, looking at what had happened to Mr Matthews and what he had said afterwards, as well as what had happened with the seven or eight journalists. That demonstrated a much bigger problem, and the FF+’s reaction to that could be examined, but he felt that it was sad that people were making the issue about specifically white journalists. The FF+ had fought for all of them, because it really believed in freedom of speech. That demonstrated the problem, and was his biggest concern at the SABC. The strongest censorship in any organisation was what he would term self-censorship, where subtle pressures from above -- from the head, from the editors, even from government -- resulted in people knowing they must do certain things and be politically correct, but not at the expense of doing one’s job properly. He felt this was what was happening at the SABC, and the tip of the iceberg had been exposed with the journalists being disciplined.
He had several examples of what he would call censorship at the SABC, but perhaps from his personal experience it would be more credible. There had been a radio phone-in programme on issues concerning him in a certain sense, but when he had phoned in, he was told that if he was Dr P Mulder from the FF+, he could not participate. His colleague, Dr P Groenewald (FF+) had phoned in on a topic which was exactly in his field, and had got the same reaction. He had written a letter to the radio station and to enquire, but had received no real explanation. Even with the elections, he had had to write a letter to the SABC news staff to give them statistics about how the FF+ was being totally ignored, with no coverage whatsoever. Although it was not the biggest party, overall it had come fifth in South Africa, so surely this justified covering some of its actions or having some reporting somewhere. This went back to the issue of subtle censorship coming from above, and the eight journalists became a symbol of that. It was troubling to equate the people who had been fired due to fraud and these eight people; he saw them as totally different.
He had previously sat in this Committee and been part of the Bills on ICASA. There had been a big debate on the role of the SABC, because it was a very difficult one. Having been away from the Committee for a number of years, and having heard the Minister and the SABC Board, he was afraid they had not got the message from the voters. The message from the voters in the metros was that they had punished the ANC for what they felt was arrogance. Having listened to the Minister, she had come out fighting, not as the Minister, but as an ANC politician. That was her right, and she could do that, but that was not going to solve the problems, especially throwing the race card around as she had.
The same applied to the spokesperson from the Board, because he would have to debate with him whether it was a government broadcaster or a public broadcaster, because there was a difference. He had been disturbed when he saw a picture of the President and the Minister in the lobby of the SABC. In all state Departments one found that, but he did not feel it ought to be at the SABC, not the way he saw it -- as an independent public broadcaster, not being financed by government. The argument was that at this stage just over 50% of people voted for the ANC, which was the government, but what about the other 50%. Did the SABC represent them as well? He really believed the inquiry was necessary, if only to define the role and responsibilities of the SABC as a public broadcaster. Everyone had to pay licence fees, by force, and could not not pay the fee. Three per cent of the money came from government, but that was tax money -- the peoples’ money. It was not ANC money it was tax money. That would have to be debated to make sure the SABC’s role was clear.
He questioned whether the SABC really saw the people dismissed for fraud and the eight journalists as the same. Did they see a difference between a government broadcaster and a public broadcaster? Why could there not be a discussion on the SABC’s role in the future? This had happened in the past, including long debates with comparisons to other public broadcasters and how they were financed. The big problem was that once government started financing it, then government wanted to control it. There were measures with other broadcasters, like the BBC, where the government could give money every five years, but there was no control to ensure the independence of the public broadcaster. Did one see the SABC as a public broadcaster, or was it becoming a government/ANC broadcaster?
Mr Kalako said perhaps Parliament needed to have a debate on what the SABC was, and what its role should be. He was sure different parties would see this differently. He would not get into issues which had been directed towards the presenters. He wanted to commend the SABC on their coverage of the elections. The SABC should explain the allocation of time to parties during elections, because this was a concern with every election. To him, the way the elections had been covered had been fair and balanced. He also wanted to congratulate the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on the way it had handled the elections and finalised them, despite some niggling problems here and there.
The SABC, as a public broadcaster, had everyone interested in it. If the SABC did not implement the programmes which were for the public, most people would not be able know what was happening, because not everyone had money for pay TV. He did not think the issues should be left hanging, and was sure that at some stage the Committee would want to interface with the Board and the Minister. It needed to understand whether the board was quorate and what decisions it was taking, because out there what was presented was different from what the SABC was presenting. The only thing which would clarify matters was when the Committee interfaced with the SABC, so that it could ask all the questions, as the Board members were custodians of editorial policy and such matters.
There was no doubt about the need for transformation, and he fully agreed that those areas of the SABC which were conservative and still in the hands of people who were resisting transformation, must be addressed. If there were such problems in IT, they must be resolved, because Members would ask what was being done. Unfortunately, the SABC could cry foul on leaks, but once the information was in the public domain, Members would be the first to ask the Minister and SABC management. It was vital, when the SABC had platforms such as this, to actually give Members the benefit of the doubt and explain these issues, like the one in the Sunday Times about why the SABC had to bring in consultants while it had staff who were responsible for doing the work. Once something was in the public domain, the SABC must gear itself to ensure that the correct information was given to the public so that these issues were put to bed, because if that was not done, the perception would still be there. Most people did not realise how many people the SABC employed. They saw the management and the few people on the radio and TV. They did not know how many people were being managed daily.
He would also encourage the SABC to be strict on its internal policies, such as confidentiality, particularly when people had committed to this in their contracts. The SABC should be specific on the programmes it was fighting for without funding, rather than just being general and referring to its public mandate. The Committee should be told the SABC was not given money when the SABC had to do specific things, such as big national events, yet there was no money from National Treasury, so that Members understood exactly what was being said. To him, pressing for an inquiry without engaging with these structures, was premature. Members wanted to bring everyone, but the Committee did not know which stakeholders were meant. The Board was here, the Minister was here and so was the SABC management. Only when Members were not satisfied would it request Parliament to host an inquiry. This was why the Committee must first engage on the media reports, rumours and leaked information. Only when the Committee was not satisfied, should it call others to come with that information. That was why the previous week, Members had said there were processes to be followed before entering into an inquiry. Perhaps it would be helpful if Ms Van Damme could table a list of the areas where the SABC management, its Board and the Minister were misleading the Committee, and present the information. Based on that, the matters could be pursued. He did not think there was anything which Members were afraid of, or wanted to hide from the public.
Ms V van Dyk (DA) asked what the ANC had done to protect the journalists who had been fired. The ANC had actually supported their dismissal. It was absolute nonsense that the DA had supported only the four white journalists, because at the time the other four journalists had not yet been fired.
The Chairperson said this was the Committee, and a party could not be asked what it did.
Ms Van Damme said that was unfair, because the ANC Members had all been saying the DA did this or did that, but had not been ruled out of order.
The Chairperson said Ms Van Dyk was asking a question to a party represented in the Committee, and that could not be done.
Ms Van Dyk said it was not only the DA which was unhappy with the conditions at the SABC. There was also a petition going around which 3 000 people had signed, calling for Mr Motsoeneng to be removed and for an inquiry.
Mr Tshidzumba said Mr Matthews was on retirement, and when asked who senior persons were who could be recommended to act, he had been at the top of the list. Regarding how he had resigned, the SABC had also seen it on social media, and he was sure that Mr Matthews could answer better. On labour issues, the board emphasised to management that all aspects of labour compliance must be monitored, because it was audited by the AG. The SABC got internal reports and acted on recommendations. The failures which Ms Van Damme had mentioned to the Board, was what he had begun his statement with. Through his experience of working in entities of government, if the entity could not submit annual reports, financial statements or attend the Committee, then there was a problem and indications of failure. If there were such issues, the Board would welcome a list for it to act upon. If it was the issues of employees being fired, that was an operational matter, and the Board was not an operational one. It oversaw compliance and advised on strategy. If the other issue was that the Board had failed whatever political party, it must be remembered that the Board’s members were not politicians. The SABC’s political head was the Minister. On the public versus independent broadcaster issue, the government was a shareholder, and the shareholder of the SABC determined independence versus public owned. The SABC was owned by the public, which through the electoral process nominated politicians to take decisions on their behalf. This meant that the SABC was owned by this government, and the definition was the inclusive government, not mentioning individual political parties. The constitutional government in South Africa was a collective, so when there was a resolution, it was the government together. That was the definition of public versus independent. The SABC was a public company and that could not be shied away from. It would help the Board if it was independent or private, because it would not have to account to Committee.
Mr Motsoeneng, Chief Operating Officer, said the SABC was not apologetic about the transformation of the organisation. It would not stop because of the noise. Perhaps the inquiry should be why these people had so much interest in the SABC, because he knew why. Members of the Committee had taken an oath, and some of the issues they were raising really were not in line with the oath they have taken, especially Ms Van Damme, “who knew she was doing stuff which she was not supposed to do with SABC employees”. How was this Committee going to be respected, because Members of Parliament were supposed to be honourable in their actions, yet some Members had not been honourable in this case.
Referring to Dr Mulder, he said he was very happy that during the elections he had seen that the FF+ allowed black people to attend their events, although he did not know if they were members. South Africans needed to move away from the colour issue and deal with the diversity of South Africa. He had really wondered whether he could attend events of the FF+, but he had now seen that he could.
What was more important for the SABC was that it was aware that some radio stations had not been transformed since 1995, and one of those radio stations was RSG. The SABC was going to zoom into that radio station and transform RSG, as a station. During the elections, there have been complaints from the EFF about their treatment by those radio stations -- the issues they discussed, and when they dealt with black people, they were not apologetic. Management knew about this issue at the SABC, and he knew it was not going to please everyone.
The SABC’s duty was not to please everyone, but to deal with the issues at the SABC and follow the Broadcasting Act. He was glad the Minister had mentioned the responsibilities of the SABC under the Broadcasting Act, because he believed that in all the decisions which had been taken, the SABC had been adhering to the Act. He still believed that the public broadcaster had the responsibility to defend democracy and the eleven languages. That was what the Act demanded of the SABC and it would defend that. It was important to say to Members that the SABC was aware that some political parties colluded with certain print media and certain commercial broadcasters.
He had been asking himself whether people had issues with the decisions of the SABC, as distinct from the policy. The decision had been taken, not because it was trying to hide the fact of people demonstrating. People had been saying that the SABC had done this because it was protecting the ruling party. There was a ruling party in the Western Cape, but the SABC had not said these visuals should be shown in the Western Cape. It was a responsible statement. People had been coming to the SABC, demanding that it cover all these protests. However, it was discouraging people from coming to the SABC to request coverage of people burning schools or people. It was saying that as a responsible public broadcaster, it needed to play around all these issues. The issue was that by showing these visuals, the SABC did not know who could be in a burning classroom. Were Members of Parliament saying that the SABC needed to show the physicality of people burning others, or when people stabbed each other, that the blood must be shown? He did not think that reasonable people would allow that. The issue of the SABC had nothing to do with politics, nor with the leadership at the SABC and the responsibility of the organisation. When one looked around the world, there were so many cases where white police shot black people, and the exact visuals had been shown. What kind of country were Members trying to build by championing whatever they were championing? The fact of the matter was that there was an agenda, and one needed to understand the role of NGOs, who funded these NGOs, and for what reason. The issue was not the visuals. A statement had been released on 26 May 2016, but the issue had come up in June when the SABC had taken the decision not to put newspapers on the platform of the SABC. That was when people had started making a noise about the SABC -- it had not been influenced by the decision on visuals. They had hijacked what was so-called censorship, because at the SABC there was no censorship. It was an editorial decision, like in any news room.
He wanted to relate how newsrooms operated and he was happy that Dr Mulder also came from that background. In news rooms, editors sat down and journalists pitched their stories. The editors’ role, wrongly or rightly, was to take a certain view. It could not be censorship when the SABC had taken a certain view, because it was daily work which was done by all media. One must ask oneself why the NGOs were not marching when the SABC did not show good stories, if they were genuine and fair about their demands. They were not doing that, because they were becoming an ‘opposition,’ as media houses. There were many issues he was aware of in private media, where some editors disagreed with newspapers, because people had their own views. The issue should not be about the SABC – one should focus on the media as a whole, allowing South Africans to come to their own conclusions.
On complaints about getting rid of consultants, the reason why consultants were being done away with was where there was an in-house skill, but there was also a consultant doing a job the staff should be doing, especially as the SABC was paying its own employees to do the work. These consultants were being paid a retainer, but the SABC would rather retain its own staff.
On local content, when he talked about transformation, this extended to outside the SABC. In his view some of the big companies did not want to see new entrants. For example, when talking about tenders at the SABC, the directors and executives had taken decisions which should be taken by management in different provinces, to allow emerging black businesses to do business with the SABC. When this decision had been taken, certain people had not been happy, because they had been used to doing business with the SABC. In this case, the SABC was saying that the big companies must share the cake with smaller companies.
Local content was also about catering for all eleven languages, and people had been saying that the SABC did not have the capacity to do so, and that it did not have the film makers. That was interesting, because there were film makers in South Africa, but because the SABC had not given them the opportunity to do business with it, they had left the country. Now, with the 90% local content policy, some of them were coming back. These were South African film makers, and it was a good move for the SABC. He reminded Members that previously the SABC could not pay service providers, actors or show sport on its platforms, but under the current management all the projects of national interest were on air. Sometimes he asked himself why people were so obsessed about the SABC, when they should actually support the SABC. Imagine running the SABC and not getting money from government. He sometimes asked himself why he should account to “these people, when they do not give us money”.
On tax payers, the TV licence was like paying for electricity and water, and it was misleading to say that this was tax money. The important issue was that the SABC was run within its resources and the team at SABC worked hard, black and white. In the SABC, there were good white people who understood the word transformation, while there were also black people who knew the word, but did not know what it meant. Looking at the SABC, one would find that where some black people led their units, they did not transform, but where some white people led, they did transform. Therefore the SABC has decided that it was not about the colour, it was about the heart.
When there was a special announcement, the scheduled programming would normally be disrupted. If the schedule was disrupted, it means the financials were disrupted, because the people who were advertising had their adverts removed. This meant there was no income for that time, but the SABC was not a profit company.
Mr Kekane asked what the placard behind Mr Motsoeneng was for, and for that person to leave. He was working with the cameramen, and he had seen him signalling. They should all be removed.
The Chairperson asked for the placard to not be shown here, and perhaps Members wanted the person to leave the House. He had said that all were welcome, but there should be no participation. That was participation.
Mr Kekane said the Chairperson had said earlier that the meeting was public, but the public should not participate. This person had participated deliberately, undermining the Chairperson, so he should be made to leave and the security should be called.
Mr Kalako said if the person had been instructed to not raise the placard, the Committee should continue and not be side-tracked. The person had seen that the issues were being deliberated and resolved, so he had wanted to side-track Members. Members should not fall into the trap of “agents provocateurs”, so the meeting should continue.
The Chairperson said this had been explained in the House, and when people did this they were censured. He proposed following the proposal of Mr Kalako.
Mr Kekane said the Committee could not proceed. The point had been emphasised since the beginning, and no one could say they had not beenwarned. That person should be removed.
Mr Tseli said the person should stay, but if he persisted, they would be removed.
The Chairperson said the Committee would take that line.
Mr Motsoeneng said the placards and noise would not stop him from what he needed to do. When it came to issues of catering for all political parties, this was done and all parties would be catered for. It was agreed that time would be allocated accordingly, and some parties had approached the SABC. All were agreed that justice needed to be done to all parties. He was aware of the FF+ issues and that was also part of the SABC’s transformation, because the FF+ got more time on RSG, compared to the other radio stations. Even with RSG, all political parties should be represented. All political parties should be given coverage at the SABC, but coverage can not be given on all the programmes of the SABC. That was where the problem was -- he did not know which programme Dr Mulder had called, because if a politician called a religious show, they would be denied. If it were current affairs, he may have been allowed to interact, because that was a politician’s space.
He emphasised that the SABC was on track, it was financially sustainable and it was transforming the organisation, noise or no noise.
The Chairperson said it was his duty to protect Members. It would be a very bad precedent if people who were called by Committees for oversight, called Members “not honourable.” That was not correct, and it would continue if it was allowed. It needed to be withdrawn, so that Members felt comfortable as Members.
Mr Motsoeneng withdrew the statement.
The Chairperson said that if questions had not been answered, the responses should be received in writing unless there were burning issues, because the meeting was pressed for time. In fact the meeting should have covered only the SABC, because there were many issues.
The Minister responded to the issue raised by Dr Mulder around whether the SABC was a public broadcaster or a state broadcaster. The SABC was a public broadcaster, as defined in the Broadcasting Act. She believed that debate had been concluded a long time ago. The Act further instructed the SABC to inform, educate and entertain, as its public mandate. That was why certain politicians wanted to say that the SABC was independent, yet when it was convenient they wanted the Minister to intervene. The SABC was an independent institution which was directed by the Board, as the accounting authority. The state’s role was that of shareholder, of which she was the representative.
On the FF+ not being afforded the opportunity, ICASA had allocated the quotas on how parties were to be covered. If there had been a breach of this, then that complaint should have been raised with ICASA. Further, ICASA had to monitor compliance and would be best placed to respond. She appreciated the constructive manner in which he had raised matters, enabling them to be taken forward.
Ms Van Damme seemed to have forgotten what she wrote in her memorandum, and it seemed it also was not shared with Ms Van Dyk, where she had specifically mentioned the journalists she had listed earlier. Ms Van Damme also claimed to have a lot of questions, and the Ministry was here, expecting to answer them, rather than for her to jump to the Inquiry. The memorandum was in her possession and could be shared with the Committee. Ms Van Damme had signed off on it, and was clear about her support for those four journalists. That showed her agenda.
Further, if Ms Van Damme understood the Broadcasting Act, she would see that there was no role for the Minister in the approval of the editorial policy. She had answered Ms Van Damme’s parliamentary questions and had even requested a copy to present to Parliament, to show that there was nothing being hidden. She found it strange that Ms Van Damme had come to the Committee, saying the Minister had approved the policy in secret, as if Ms Van Damme did not know what the Act required. Section 6 (5)(a) read: “ the Board must prepare and submit to the authority, no less than three months after the date of conversion, policies which would ensure compliance with the authority’s code of conduct as prescribed with the corporation’s licensing conditions and with the objectives contained in this Act, including the news editorial policy”. Section 6 (5)(b) read: “the corporation must notify the authority in writing of any amendments to the policy referred to in paragraph (a) as soon as was reasonably possible”. There was no provision which said that this must be submitted to the Minister or Parliament. She believed the SABC had complied with this, and still insisted this was in terms of the Act, so to insinuate that she had approved the policy was incorrect. The Board, after the approval of the policy, had submitted it to ICASA, as required by section 6 (5)(b). Further, ICASA had not objected to the editorial policy. The policy addressed the issues relating to news, programming and local content, so it could not limit the editorial to a single issue.
Why were the increases of African languages in the SABC not being advocated for? It was because English and Afrikaans were covered. What about the other languages? If Members were serious about oversight, they should be coming in with support for all languages being broadcasted, rather than raising chaos. The Act required all languages to have a fair share of broadcasting. It was this policy which had enable the SABC to implement the 90% local content policy, and she had not heard the opposition Members commending the SABC for this radical decision. Instead there had been calls in a DA memorandum for advertisers to boycott the SABC. This was because of the radical transformation being brought in, ensuring the historically disadvantaged also had a fair share. The SABC board had complied on this matter.
She had never said ICASA had not said the SABC was wrong. She had specifically mentioned that the issue was around the provision for an absolute ban on the airing of violence, in which the SABC had erred. These were the issues which she felt needed to be strongly dealt with.
Regarding the issue that she had started attacking the media, she did not have a relationship with the media. On what planet did Ms Van Damme live, because she knew the posture which the mainstream media had taken, which was to be generally hostile to this government? Anything which this government did was corrupt, and there was nothing which it could do which was right. They reported that without first establishing the facts. The Ministry was present, and most of the things it was responding to were media reports. The facts had been presented, but already the online media was distorting the facts -- the reality presented in this meeting. To just call for the SABC board to be disbanded, required motivation based on what had been presented. She would have loved Ms Van Damme to interrogate the presentation, because she had been there to provide answers to that effect.
The Chairperson asked if all questions had been answered.
Ms Van Damme said not a single one of her questions had been answered. She had asked Mr Aguma several questions, and the Minster why there was no draft policy, as that had been the commitment. She was aware of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, but her question was on the SABC’s commitment to publish a draft editorial policy.
Mr Aguma said the first question was about provisions made for legal cases, what the Minister was talking about, and the figure there was not saying that the SABC had put aside an amount in anticipation of legal cases. The figure for 2015 had been R171 million, but one needed to understand what a provision meant. The reporting standards indicated that it was a liability of uncertain timing or amount. Simplified, what this meant was that the SABC was subjected to many court cases, many of which spoke to its operations. At year end, it looked at the possibility of settling those court cases, and the amount for this for 2015 was R171 million. He was talking about 2015, and not 2016, because the 2016 financials had not been tabled. That did not mean that this was an amount for legal fees, or for disciplinary matters, but included potential liability for damages for not broadcasting items, or if an employee sued for wrongful dismissal. This was not to say that a basket of funds was being created for legal fees. Perhaps the question was, what had been budgeted for legal fees, and he did not think it was more than R40 million. This was because one could not say who was going to sue you, but for the running of the legal division, an amount of below R40 million had been budgeted.
Secondly, on the settlement for Mr Matlala, he could categorically state that what was in the papers was false. He would be a bit coy about revealing the amount, because a confidentiality agreement had been signed. He undertook that the amount would be seen in the following year’s financial statements, but it was far less than what had appeared in the paper. However, because it was leaked information, the SABC would not bother too much about responding to rumours.
Ms Van Damme said she wanted to be clear whether the R171 million was a contingency liability fund which was dipped into for court cases, or the amount which had been spent. Secondly, the SABC was before the Committee to account to Parliament, and while Mr Motsoeneng may feel he did not have to account, the SABC had to account. How much had been paid to the former acting CEO of the SABC? The SABC was duty bound, and bound by law, to account. The Committee not know why he had been suspended, and then millions had been spent paying him off. The SABC was duty bound to indicate why and what the amount was.
Mr Aguma said the R171 million was a liability of uncertain timing or amount. Organisations did not create a fund to litigate, unless they were in the business of litigation. If there were cases raised against the SABC, the probability of having to pay that amount was tested. Examples included the SABC not broadcasting something, and someone claiming damages of R10million. To the extent that it met the definition of a liability for accounting standards, even if one was not aware of the amount because it was subject to court processes, it was disclosed as a provision. It was not a war chest to address law problems. It was the best estimate of what the SABC would be liable to pay if cases went against it. Someone could claim R10 million, but there could be a counter-claim. Being prudent, one took the best estimate of what the amount would be.
On Mr Matlala, he still believed was subject to the confidentiality agreement, and he would not want to breach it. He could tell the Committee that it was not the reported R18 million.
The Minister said that this would be disclosed in the annual report. She was concerned that Ms Van Damme had said she had not answered the question on the editorial policy. Ms Van Damme had sent her a particularly vague parliamentary question in February 2016, trying to force a procedure not required by the legislation, asking when the new draft editorial policy would be published and tabled in Parliament. She had deliberately read the law for this reason, so she had responded to the question. She had even volunteered information and asked the SABC to provide a copy to show there was nothing being hidden. The policy process had been completed and there was no requirement that the policy be submitted to Parliament. The law required submission to the authority, which had been done, so she did not understand what was required.
The Chairperson said the questions which were not answered should be submitted and there would still be another round with the SABC. The Committee would come back, but it could not be here the entire day dealing with the same issues. ICASA had been called, had spent money to be before the Committee, and should be heard. He closed this part of the meeting and indicated he would request another meeting soon.
When the Committee was discussing issues, only where there was a summary and decision, did that become the decision of the meeting. For now, the SABC had been listened to on most of the issues raised and would go back to finalise outstanding issues. It was very clear from listening to the SABC that an inquiry was not necessary. That was what Mr Kalako and Mr Tseli had been saying, while Ms Van Damme was in support of an inquiry, and so that there would be no confusion when the meeting was over, a decision must be taken.
Mr Tseli said having listened to the presentations by the Minister and SABC, Members were saying at this stage there was absolutely no reason to take a decision that there needs to be an inquiry. Linked to that, it must be clear that the Committee had a spokesperson, who was the Chairperson. It became very annoying when people, after a meeting, go out and speak loudly on its outcome. The spokesperson of the Committee was the Chairperson, so when other Members speak, it could be on behalf of the party, but not the Committee.
Mr Kekane agreed, and said there was no need for any inquiry. Further, he agreed on the issue of the spokesperson. The Chairperson was the person who would represent the views of the Committee and no one else.
Ms Van Damme said she did not need the permission of Mr Kekane or Mr Tseli to communicate what she felt had happened in the Committee, and she would do so. In that communication, she would make it clear that the ANC Members, after fully supporting the inquiry the previous week, had clearly received instructions from Luthuli House and were now going back on that. They were failing in their duty as Members to conduct oversight. They were instead protecting people who had failed in their duties. This should be noted, and she would communicate it. She did not need their permission.
The Chairperson said it was clear that the decision was that there would be no inquiry.
ICASA engagement deferred
The Chairperson felt it would not do justice to ICASA, to engage with them for just 30 minutes.
Mr Kekane said there were so many issues with ICASA on which it had to answer to the Committee. Since it had been grilling the SABC for close to four hours, ICASA needed perhaps six hours. There were many court cases against ICASA, and the Committee would like clarity. Therefore this 30 minutes would be too little, and ICASA should come at a later date.
The Chairperson noted that this proposal had been seconded. ICASA should be called when a meeting had been programmed, and deal with matters raised in the presentation.
The Chairperson then declared the meeting adjourned.
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