Committee Reports on Gauteng and KZN oversight; Committee Strategic Plan; Committee study tour

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17 October 2017
Chairperson: Mr H Maxegwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Documents handed out:
Minutes of various meetings; Portfolio Committee on Communications study tour to Australia, the UK, Germany, the Republic of Tanzania or Mauritius [All Committee Reports available Tabled Committee Reports once published]

The agenda of the Portfolio Committee meeting included the adoption of oversight reports, minutes and the discussion of an upcoming Study Tour, but it turned out to be quite exciting when news broke of the Cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of former Energy Minister, Mmamaloko Kubayi, as the new Minister of Communication. That news upstaged the other unplanned agenda item, which was the reading of a letter of withdrawal from a South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Board nominee.

Two reports on oversight visits undertaken, one to KwaZulu-Natal and the other to Gauteng, were finalised after some discussion. The Committee determined that timeframes were essential to ensure responses from both the Minister and SMME’s, although SMME’s could not be instructed, but had to be encouraged.  Minutes of various meetings were adopted before the Committee turned its attention to an upcoming Study Tour.

The Committee was looking at countries that had relevant expertise in broadcasting and broadcasting regulations to assess the communication needs of South Africa in the field of broadcasting. The proposal for the Study Tour focused on technological innovation challenges for South Africa and examples of international best practice. The migration from analogue to digital television was a major event in South Africa’s broadcasting history and it had been hit by numerous delays resulting in the new deadline for full migration being moved to December 2018. The convergence of content regulators was also becoming a reality. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) White Paper had advised on splitting the authority and having an economic regulator focused on postal and telecommunications.  It was decided that the Committee would propose a visit to Australia and Mauritius, with Australia being prioritised in the event that the Committee could only visit one country.  

Meeting report

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications, Mr H Maxegwana (ANC) opened the meeting by reading a letter received from a nominee for the SABC Board in which Ms Nomvuyiso Batyi stated that her interests had changed and that she no longer wished to hold the position of a Board member of the SABC.  The Chairperson said that the letter was silent on the reasons why, but that it was known that she had been employed within the sector and, to avoid conflict of interests, she had withdrawn. It would be known soon where she was going.

One of the Members was concerned about not hearing anything from the Deputy Minister, Ms Thandi Mahambehlahla. The Chairperson confirmed that nothing had been heard from her.

Reports on oversight visits to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal

On the agenda was the adoption of the reports on oversight visits to Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The Chairperson expressed the hope that members had gone through the reports.

The Committee Secretary, Mr Thembinkosi Ngoma, referred to the recommendations contained in the Gauteng report.

It appeared that there were minor differences between the report that he had and the report that the Committee had. The Chairperson was annoyed at the confusion and said that the Committee should move on to the report on the oversight visit to KZN. The Secretary apologised and said that sometimes there were too many documents for one day.

The Content Advisor for the Committee, Mr Mbombo Maleka, read through the report on the oversight visit from 27 – 29 June 2017 to KZN.

The Chairperson asked if the recommendations were in order. Did they have timeframes? Where necessary, timeframes needed to be added.

The Content Advisor explained that the recommendations were written in a way that was intended to encourage, rather than using the word “must” when the recommendations were directed towards an outside project. He was not sure that timeframes could be attached to those. In the case of recommendations pertaining to the Minister, the Committee should decide how much time would be permitted.  

Ms V van Dyk (DA) agreed that timeframes should be considered because some of the publishers or radio stations visited by Members had been annoyed that the Committee went back without there having been any progress following previous visits. That was not acceptable.

The Chairperson agreed and said that perhaps the Minister could report back in the first term of 2018.  The Committee agreed.

The Chairperson asked why, in some recommendations, the wording was that the “Committee encouraged …”.  The Content Advisor informed the Chairperson that the same language could not be used for the SMME’s as was used for the Minister. SMME’s could not be instructed. Did the members feel otherwise?

The Chairperson noted that money had been given to the projects. Ms van Dyk stated that even when money was given to a project, the Committee could not prescribe how projects were to be managed. The Committee could encourage, but not prescribe.

Ms N Tolashe (ANC) agreed.

The Chairperson confirmed that Members agreed with the language in the report.

The Content Advisor asked if there should be a timeline to the recommendations that pertained to the Committee.

At that point the news broke that a new Minister of Communication had been appointed. Some of the members and officials present at the meeting had received the news on their cell phones.  The former Energy Minister, Mmamaloko Kubayi, had been appointed as the new Minister of Communication in a Cabinet reshuffle. The Chairperson called for a break of five minutes.

After the break, the Content Advisor continued to work through the report on the visit to KwaZulu-Natal.

Ms Van Dyk asked what the word “payola” meant. The Content Advisor explained that it was a backhanded payment to a radio station to have a specific song played.

Ms Van Dyk asked if a timeframe should not be added for the forensic audit of the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA). The Chairperson said it should be done as soon as possible and, together with Ms van Dyk, it was agreed that it should happen within the current financial year.

Ms Tolashe wanted to know how many of the 15 staff interns had received training in marketing, administration and production (page 25). The Chairperson asked the Content Advisor to explain.  The Content Advisor said the number referred to interns and not full-time employees. The community radio station received support from the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT Seta) to train 15 interns. He agreed that the sentence needed to be reconfigured.

The Chairperson asked if the report, with corrections, could be adopted.

Ms Tolashe (ANC) moved to adopt and Ms P van Damme (DA) seconded the adoption of the report. The KZN report was adopted.

The Chairperson asked if the Gauteng report was ready. The Secretary indicated that there were differences in the reports because four of the five entities had been requested to provide responses.

Responses had been provided by the Board of the MDDA on issues raised by staff members (page 8).  The Secretary explained that the term “staff communiques” meant “staff communications” (page 10).

Before the Secretary could proceed to the next part of the report that dealt with the Committee’s visit to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), Ms Van Dyk asked for the name of the consultant for the recruitment programme as discussed on page 9.  The Secretary indicated that he would follow that up.

At the end of the section, the Chairperson asked if members agreed to all matters relating to ICASA. They did. The Secretary continued with the section: Responses of issues raised by Films and Publications Board (FPB) (page 18).

Ms Van Dyk asked if the information that had been requested from FPB, after a previous session, had been received.  The Chairperson said that the report was not yet available but would be made available as soon as it was received.

The Report of the Portfolio Committee on Communications on its oversight visit to Gauteng was adopted when proposed by Ms Tolashe and seconded by Ms van Dyk.

Adoption of Minutes of the Portfolio Committee on Communications Meetings

The minutes for the month of May were adopted after various members of the Committee moved and seconded to adopt. Apologies from Ms Tolashe and Ms M Matshoba (ANC) apologies had not been noted in the minutes. That was corrected.

The Chairperson said that process of dealing with minutes took a lot of time and that, in future, minutes should be ready for adoption at the end of meetings where the Committee had time to spare. Also, in the future, the opening remarks should be reflected.

Committee Study Tour presentation

The Chairperson said that tour would take place the following year and a decision should be taken about where the Committee would go.

The Committee Researcher, Mr Lethabo Dibetso, went through the proposal which suggested five countries: the United Kingdom (UK), Germany, Australia, Tanzania and Mauritius. The proposal was based on a desktop study with random sampling techniques utilised in order to select countries that had relevant expertise in broadcasting and broadcasting regulations in order to assess the communication needs of South Africa in the field of broadcasting.

Over the past two decades the UK government had greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programmes. The British economy had taken a while to get going after the financial crisis in 2008. It had, nevertheless, grown in every quarter since the start of 2013.

The Researcher presented the economic situation of the countries:

  • Australia had a vibrant economy and had recorded impressive economic progress, unmarred by recession, for more than 25 years. With almost all industries open to foreign competition and a skilled workforce readily available, Australia continued to be an attractive and dynamic destination for investment. The Australian government had withdrawn from most areas of the market, and competition in those sectors, such as financial services, had increased.
  • Germany had the largest national economy in Europe and a social market economy that combined capitalism with social policies favouring social insurance. Germany had a skilled labour force, but the economy was facing countless challenges ranging from Brexit to refugees.
  • Mauritius was heading towards a service-oriented and innovation-driven economy. The financial services sector was emerging as one of the most important contributors to the Mauritian economy. Other sectors were rapidly developing, namely the knowledge economy, life sciences, healthcare, renewable energy, film-making, marinas and high-precision manufacturing.
  • Tanzania was the tenth largest economy on the African continent and was heavily dependent on agriculture. The country had diverse mineral deposits, including precious minerals such as gold, diamonds, tanzanite and rubies.

The following section of the proposal focused on technological innovation challenges for South Africa and examples of international best practice. The migration from analogue to digital television was a major event in South Africa’s broadcasting history and it had been hit by numerous delays resulting in the new deadline for full migration being moved to December 2018. In the UK the switchover from analogue to digital TV had commenced on 17 October 2007 and was completed on 24 October 2012. Australia was one of the first countries in the world to launch digital terrestrial television broadcast services. It had commenced the process on 1 January 2001 in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The phasing out of analogue PAL transmissions had begun in 2010 and was completed by December 2013. Germany had begun its region-to-region migration to digital television, Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial (DVB-T), in December 2003 and cut off analogue terrestrial television after a short period of simulcast. Broadcasting had come late to Tanzania. The first broadcaster, a private firm - Independent Television (ITV) – had been launched in 1994. On 31 December 2012 Tanzania became the first country in mainland Sub-Saharan Africa to switch off its analogue television signal. Mauritius was one of the first countries to fully migrate from analogue to digital with the official launch of Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcast in 2005 with 70%. In 2006 18 gap fillers had increased coverage to 100%.

The proposal looked at the funding of public broadcasting in those countries:

  • Australia’s two government-funded national broadcasters, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), were funded by a special parliamentary appropriation.
  • From the very outset, the BBC had been funded by a licence fee on receiving equipment. Currently 94% of the UK’s 25 million homes and businesses paid a licence fee of £145.50 per year.
  • Since the beginning of 2013 German households have had to pay a monthly broadcasting licence fee of almost 18€ - 215€ a year, regardless of whether they own a television or radio.
  • In Tanzania the funds were made up out of sums appropriated by Parliament, fees and charges levied for goods and services provided, monies borrowed or grants made available, monies received for commercial activities such as consulting or leasing property or equipment, monies received from government levies and monies from government funds established for the functioning of the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation (TBC).
  • The Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation’s funding came from the levying of a television licence fee (60%) and commercials (40%).

The final section in the proposal covered activities that the Committee would study per country during the study tour. In conclusion, the Researcher said that the study tour presented a great opportunity for South Africa to learn from countries that were at the forefront in broadcast technology innovation and adoption. 

The Chairperson told the Committee that the UK and Germany could be visited at together. The Committee had to look at which country would be best in light of the space South Africa was in. The tour would take place in the first quarter of the following year. Once the Committee had agreed on a country, or countries, the proposal would be submitted to the Speaker’s Office via the Chairperson of Chairpersons.

Ms Matshoba asked about the weather, but noted that it was not about seeing the country, but about learning.

Ms Van Damme suggested visiting two countries and contrasting two different continents. Ms Tolashe suggested Australia and Mauritius. Ms Matshoba supported Ms Tolashe’s proposal to visit Australia.  Ms Van Damme supported Ms Tolashe.

The Chairperson reminded the Committee that the UK and Germany could be visited at the same time. Only those two countries offered that opportunity.

The Researcher said there was a need for a continental perspective. He would suggest either Tanzania or Mauritius. Mauritius had planned their migration process for 20 years and had beaten its own deadlines. Tanzania and Mauritius would give great perspectives, and Mauritius was a growing economy. The UK, Germany and Australia would offer interesting perspectives with regards to funding public broadcasting. The Film and Publications Amendment Bill was based on Australian legislation.

The convergence of content regulators was becoming a reality. The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) White Paper had advised on splitting the authority and having an economic regulator focused on postal and telecommunications. The Researcher felt that no country would be a mistake, but that Australia and Mauritius would be ideal.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had to decide because they could not go to both.

The Researcher suggested that the Committee apply to go to Australia.

The Chairperson said the Committee would apply to go to Australia and Mauritius, but that the priority would be Australia.

Committee programme

The Committee finalised the programme for the following weeks.

Ms van Dyk said the outstanding information from the FPB should have been available the previous Monday at 10am. She also asked what the status was on the investigation against the Chairperson of the Committee and Mr Kalako.

The Secretary answered that the Chairperson’s office was trying very hard to get hold of legal services. They were hoping to meet in the following week.

The Chairperson said that the matter had to be prioritised. Information would be circulated.

The meeting was adjourned.

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