Sunday, March 22, 2009



Sunday Times Editorial
Mar 22, 2009

It would be easy to switch channels and write off the SABC as the Orwellian propaganda arm of the country’s ruling party.

It would be easy, but irresponsible. From its genesis as a crude apartheid-era state broadcaster to its current unwieldy incarnation as a public service broadcaster and public commercial service broadcaster, the SABC continues to flounder from crisis to crisis without fulfilling its true potential.

When the Broederbond was evicted from Auckland Park, hopes were raised that the SABC would live up to its mandate — to inform, educate and entertain South African citizens, to contribute to nation-building and nurture democracy, and make us proud of our rich cultural diversity.

But a succession of ANC political appointees to the corridors of SABC power has made the institution no different to what it was under the Nats.

Not only is the SABC mired in never-ending loops of mismanagement, cronyism and political interference, it is also a honeytrap for the greedy.

The Sunday Times this week reveals the wanton wastage of taxpayers’ money by the head of SABC’s international acquisitions department, Matilda Gaboo. Gaboo was appointed by former CEO Dali Mpofu, who oversaw her paying R38-million to friends for television programmes that have never been broadcast.

Even as allegations of mass corruption and gross mismanagement began to emerge, in as early as June 2005, Mpofu did nothing to discipline Gaboo or stop the spending spree. Let us not forget that Mpofu and the current SABC board were manoeuvred into the broadcaster’s hot seats by axed president Thabo Mbeki and his cronies.

A report by auditors Deloitte depicts a scary scenario of the antagonistic relationships in the SABC’s top echelons. It should come as no surprise that corporate governance at the SABC is, as a result, “under severe strain”.

The report identifies a “serious breakdown” in some authorisation, review and accountability structures and processes. It says the board operates in “crisis mode” and interferes in managerial and operational matters.

While we support Deloitte’s recommendation for urgent workshops to restore trust between the broadcaster’s board and its executive managers, and for an overhaul of the board’s structure, we would like to advocate something a bit more revolutionary.

When the next president appoints an SABC board, he should apply his mind to the Broadcasting Act 13(4)(a) and seek individuals who are suited to serve by virtue of their qualifications, expertise and experience in the fields of broadcasting policy and technology, broadcasting regulation, media law, frequency planning, business practice and finance, marketing, journalism, entertainment and education, and social and labour issues.

If the SABC is to attain the ideal of becoming a true public service broadcaster, the individuals appointed as its managers and board members need to be chosen based on skill and experience, as opposed to political sycophancy.

As difficult as this might be for ANC party bosses to grasp, the public broadcaster is meant to serve our democracy, not undermine it.