The SABC building in Auckland Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- SABC board members who wanted to sit on the next board said they had nothing to say about last year’s budget cuts or the resignation of former news head Phathiswa Magopeni.
- New hopeful board candidates said the current administration had to accept some blame for allowing the cuts and the impeachment of Magopeni.
- All candidates agreed that the cuts have not put the broadcaster in a better financial position, but have stripped it of vital skills.
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While the candidates interviewed this week for SABC board positions differed on whether the current board was to blame for last year’s cuts in public service broadcasting, there was consensus on one thing: they believe job cuts did not yield positive results for the company.
A parliamentary subcommittee on communications held its second day of interviews for SABC board members on Wednesday. MPs are interviewing 37 candidates to appoint 12 people to a new SABC board that will be formed in mid-October, when the current board’s term ends.
Five candidates on the current outgoing board told MPs they had no say in the cuts, while outside candidates said the current board should bear some responsibility.
Some of the outside candidates also did not hold back their criticism of the incumbent board for the way former SABC head of news, Phathiswa Magopeni’s resignation, was handled. Magopeni was fired early this year and successfully challenged it before the CCMA.
Constitutional and corporate governance attorney Tseliso Thipanyane said Magopeni’s resignation and last year’s austerity measures were a symptom of numerous shortcomings at the board level.
‘Fix leadership and management’
“We need to do a lot to turn the tide. There was a loss of more than R600 million and a drop in advertising revenues and TV licenses. That leads to a loss of trust and people are going to alternatives like the Netflix of this world, while we should be competing in that space,” said Thipanyane.
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The broadcaster announced the reduction of 621 staff last year, to advertise 484 freelance jobs in February. Thipanyane described this as a failure, saying the SABC has potential and should not cut people down.
“The new board needs to look at the reports from the Court of Auditors and the Zondo Commission and look at what needs to be done to restore broadcasting. We need to be a top ten broadcaster and to do this we need to fix leadership and management,” said Thipanyane.
Thipanyane said he hoped the board positions would go to capable South Africans who want to take broadcasting to new heights, not to politically oriented appointees who are only pursuing board seats to seek their fortune.
On Tuesday evening, SABC board member David Maimela said the board played no part in the cuts, but that it was a condition of the National Treasury’s $3.5 billion bailout.
Earlier on Tuesday, another candidate and current board member Mamodupi Mohlala-Mulaudzi told the subcommittee that Magopeni’s resignation rested with SABC group CEO Madoda Mxagwe and that the rest of the board was only aware of the matter.
On Wednesday, veteran broadcaster Mpho Tsedu said SABC board members must be fearless and ethical to face corruption and renegotiate arrangements that exist at the expense of the broadcaster.
He said the lack of engaging content on SABC platforms was a major failure of leadership in the past. He said SABC’s failure to spend its R800 million budget on content procurement was an indictment of the current board.
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Get with the program
Commercial media veteran Quentin Green said attracting advertisers would be harder for public broadcasters without desirable ratings. He said the SABC could solve this by investing in high-quality programming and ensuring that a larger portion of the entity’s budget goes to programming.
Green was appointed to SABC’s deputy director general of finance and administration in 1989. Since then he was commercial director of e.tv in 1999, COO of TVAfrica in 2001 and member of the communications unit at KPMG.
Green contracted shows like People of the South and helped Felicia bring in Mabuza-Suttle for her talk show. He also commissioned Mfundi Vundla to produce the iconic soap opera, generations.
“The big concern there is the uncertainty expressed by the Auditor General about the company’s ability to continue as a continuity. If you look at the ratings and all the channels in South Africa, not a single program in the top. 10 shows on SABC3 has a higher rating than e.tv,” said Green.
Green said the current TV licensing system has proved unworkable, as a tax must be affordable and affordable. He said whatever system that replaces the TV license should serve to subsidize the poorest South African households.