Minister Faith Muthambi: Portfolio Committee on Communications meeting

23 August 2016

23 August 2016

Remarks by Minister of Communications, A.F. Muthambi at Portfolio Committee on Communications Meeting

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,
Leadership of the DoC led by the Acting Director General;
Leadership of the SABC led by the Board and Acting GCEO.

South Africa is going through a process of profound social transformation. The question that we have today is, how does the SABC balance the provision of information, education, entertainment with the upholding the moral fibre of society. The broader debate that the country and society should have, is what kind of society do we want to see reflected in our small screens?

We are saying this because the SABC is legislated and therefore expected to contribute to democracy, development of society, gender equality, nation building, and provision of education and strengthening the spiritual fibre of society. This demands by the Broadcasting Act also includes the development of local programming content which is part of government’s overall policy in the creative industry, called Mzansi Golden.

I have noted with interest media headlines which have driven a narrative that Minister should have intervened in the affairs of the SABC.

There has also been a group of people, some of whom have worked in the past at the SABC, calling for this Minister to intervene. They are today acting as though, the operations at the SABC were not marred with challenges when they were at the helm.

The truth is that some of the former SABC Executive actually presided over the SABC whose corporate governance challenges that we redressing today dates back to their tenure. 

Just last night Chairperson, we were informed of the petition by the Right2know Campaign to our offices in Pretoria and those protesting outside Parliament this morning. It is interesting to note that when the mainstream print media took a negative posture on their coverage of government, none of these NGOs marched to print media buildings demand that there be fair and just coverage of South African stories. 

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

One of the constitutional obligations that is placed upon any Minister is encouraging public participation all sectors of society in any matter that affect the portfolio of a particular Minister.

It is, however, uncharacteristic to receive a letter as we received from the former SABC Non-Executive which was simultaneously send or leaked to the media at the same time.

We are not saying that people have no constitutional right write to the Ministry or to write open letters; we are just surprised at the failure to at least to understand this protocol involved when you intend to be taken serious.

Every person and or organisation has a right to peaceful protest as guaranteed by section 17 of the Constitution on the rights to assembly, demonstration, petition and petition.

On the DA Petition

Honourable Chairperson

On the 19th of July 2016, we received a petition or memorandum of demands from the Democratic Alliance. Contrary to a Party that claims to know and understand the procedure on such matters, we were shocked that the memorandum/ petition/ correspondent did not include the date, timelines and grace period for which the Department is expected to respond.

Nevertheless we responded within 7 days of receipt. It is also true that the procedure  followed by the DA was flawed as the petition to Parliament are directed to the Speaker of the National Assembly, who upon scrutiny of the content of petition, refers the petition to the Portfolio Committee responsible, instead of petitioning the Minister as they have done.

Lastly we do believe that the DA memorandum achieved what the DA as a Party stands for- protection of White interest and in this case, protection of White Journalist at the SABC. Chairperson, allow me quote the first.

“We support only the 4 of the 8 suspended journalists (Jacques Steenkamp; Foeta Krige ; Suna Venter and Krivani Pillay-“.

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

The change from an oppressive and exploitative Colonialisation and Apartheid epochs into a new era of freedom in South Africa, was elevated in law by the adoption of the Constitution, which contains key fundamental constitutional rights and obligations by all. The adoption of the Constitution created a new sense of hope and belief in the country’s citizens which was welcomed with expectations.

In this regard, all institutions in the country that had been exclusive for the majority were expected to embrace the inclusivity of a diverse country in all spheres of life, namely political, social and economic.

However, it is interesting note that today’s protest is staged by (Right2Know) on the eve of the ‘DoC’s Print Media Transformation Colloquium’ which is meant to distract the attention and the focus of the department.  

On the contrary, matters surrounding the SABC which will be dealt with by Parliament and as the Executive Authority, we have acceded to the Committee’s instruction to brief it terms of section 55 of the Constitution and National Assembly Rules. We therefore find the planned petition suspicious in that the matter being petitioned to the Department, has received the attention of Parliament.

They are now pre-empting the discussion and diluting the environment for the Colloquium on Thursday and Friday. It is thus, my view that these are people who support and wants the status quo of the print media to remain; they are now opportunistically manipulating this protest as though they are opposed to issues at the SABC, whereas these are people who are fronting as proponents of those opposed to Media transformation.

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

It is on this score that we have since written to your Office inviting Members of Parliament, particularly those serving in this Committee to be part of the Colloquium

SABC News editorial policy- 2013

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

The debate regarding the matters relating to the SABC must be debated within the context of the law that governs the affairs of the Corporation. The affairs of the SABC are governed by the Broadcasting Act No 4 of 1999 as amended particularly section 6 of the Act. This section provides for the Charter of the Corporation that the Corporation must comply with.

The SABC is required in terms of the Broadcasting Act to develop the news and editorial policies. It also makes provision for the SABC to ensure that there is public participation in the development of such a policy by inviting and considering public comments on such draft policies and by other means.

This provision as required by the section 5(a) act was complied with by the SABC to ensure compliance with the SABC’s licence conditions, in relation the News Editorial Policy.

To this end, a process of public consultation was undertaken as part of the initial review process in 2013 and early 2014. In the preparation of the policy, the Board ensured that there was sufficient public participation and public input in development of the policy in line with section 6 and 7 of the Act as part of SABC’s continued role of upholding the latter of the law.

Stakeholder engagements were held with more than 30 organisations and interest groups from across the country and this was followed by 17 public hearings, where each province hosted at least one. Almost 2,000 people attended these hearings:

  • Public consultations were advertised on SABC platforms and in selected print media; and
  • The SABC received 216 written submissions from individuals and organisations

In addition the proposed amendments to the editorial policy was translated into all eleven official languages and placed on the website of the SABC. The policy was approved by the Board of Directors of the SABC for implementation by management. As required by section 5(b) of the Broadcasting Act the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was notified in writing on the amended policy.

Stakeholders including political parties, groups such as SOS and others were all afforded the opportunity to comment on the proposed amendments to the editorial policy.

What we witnessed pre-election was an undue pressure on the part of certain section of the society to force changes to the already approved policy and we believed that if allowed, it was going to erode and influence the editorial independence of the SABC.

  1. The recent changes to the policy and the impact thereof on the broadcaster

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

The corporation is encouraged to ensure the development of the South African expression by providing in South African official languages, a wide range of programming that:

  • Reflects South African attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity
  • Displays South African talent in education and entertainment programmes;
  • Offers plurality of views and variety of news information and analysis from South African point of view;
  • Advances the national and public interest.

In line with its public broadcasting service mandate which is to inform, educate and entertain, the Corporation has a role to ensure that it contributes towards nation building and social cohesion in the Republic.

At this point we need to distinguish between the editorial policy and editorial decisions in different newsrooms, including the SABC.

The Editorial Decision,  Not and Editorial Policy in our view is also in line with section 16 of the Constitution on the limitations Freedom of Expression Section 16 (2)(a)(b)(c) stipulates that freedom of expression does not extend to:
propaganda of war;

  • Incitement of imminent violence; or
  • Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

Main complaint -MMA

The main complaint against the SABC, by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) appeared to be the broadcaster’s decision to stop coverage of violent protest actions, in which the complainant alleged that this was in breach of the provisions of the Broadcasting Act as well as Licence Conditions

In handing down its judgement, CCC also somewhat conquers with the principle of the SABC’s action.

In light of the actual CCC and ICASA JUDGEMENT.  We do think that the SABC may have erred in its decision, however, rephrasing its decision would have swayed the CCC. The judgment noted that:

  • In Print Media South Africa, after reviewing various authorities, the Constitutional Court held that - “The case law recognises that an effective ban or restriction on a publication by a court order even before it has "seen the light of day" is something to be approached with circumspection and should be permitted in narrow circumstances only.”
  • The CCC judgment acknowledge that the  SABC has the power to limit visual material in appropriate circumstances where it amounts to a contravention of the BCCSA Code or, in a time of elections, where the material is in conflict with sections of the Electronic Communications Act which deal with elections. However, it has NO authority in law to ban an entire category of material in advance.
  • The Broadcasting Code does, indeed, place certain limits on the screening of violence, but that Code may only be applied when a complaint is lodged with the relevant authority, be that the BCCSA or the CCC and after a broadcast – that is clear from section 53(2) of the Electronic Communications Act 2005.
  • Furthermore, the Broadcasting Code is clear as to the broadcast of violence. It does not prohibit the mere broadcasting of violence, but it depends on the manner in which it is broadcast. Clause 11, the News clause, provides as follows:
  •  Broadcasting service licensees must advise viewers in advance of scenes or reporting of extraordinary violence, or graphic reporting on delicate subject-matter such as sexual assault or court action related to sexual crimes, particularly during afternoon or early evening newscasts and updates; and
  • Broadcasting service licensees must not include explicit or graphic language related to news of destruction, accidents or sexual violence which could disturb children or sensitive audiences, except where it is in the public interest to include such material.

In addition, clause 3 of the Code (which is applicable in the main to material other than news) provides that broadcasting service licensees must not broadcast material which, judged within 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

These words are extracted from the CCC 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 of the SABC erred.

Whilst the editorial decision is debatable, however, SABC is not alone in the pursuit of news and current affairs programmes as they relate to daily processing of news, which involves, news gathering, verification of facts and editing procedures.

SABC not alone in Editorial decisions

The letter and subsequent radio interviews by Ms Phakamile Hlubi former ENCA journalist is a reference point. Her letter making allegation of the manipulation of news, including how they are instructed to present themselves in terms of dress code, did not make headlines news both at eNCA/ e-TV, as newsworthy item, which to us also exhibits symptoms of  editorial decision or ‘censorship’ as they call it now.

Implementation plan on the ruling of ICASA’s Compliance and Complaints Committee on the Media Monitoring Project vs SABC case

None: There are no implications safe to say the SABC has complied with ICASA’s ruling and letter was communicated to ICASA in this regard. Since the SABC’s editorial decision has been accordingly been reversed. How the SABC conducts its responsibilities must resonate with its standing and influence in the society. Therefore the debate currently taking place in the country must be viewed within the context of the SABC contribution towards building a non-racial and non-sexist democratic society. At the apex of this promise is the shaping of the public perceptions regarding themselves and creating patriotism amongst South Africans.

The Broadcasting Act provides that the Board as the accounting authority of the Corporation manages the affairs of the Board. The Board is supported by the Executive committee of the Corporation who manages the day to day operations not the Minister.

Status on SABC Suspension

The SABC cases that were before the Labour Court matter have also been settled as seven(7)  of the eight (8) employees have returned to work, except for a case that involves of the freelancer, who is also a contributing editor. The other matter before the Constitutional court is sub judice.

SABC cases that are before the Constitutional Court and the Labour Court and their financial impact on the broadcaster

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

Regarding the Editorial Policy, there are no cases before any Court, in the Republic. The PFMA is very clear in terms of timeframes for submission of Annual Reports and Audited Financial Statement which is 30 September.

We do not want to question the Committee’s wisdom in including this item as it precludes the discussion which is done during the tabling of Annual Reports. At the same time, we want to assure the Committee of our willingness for transparency and accountability.

To this end, the SABC is involved in legal disputes through its normal course of business. The outcome of these legal claims may or may not have a material impact on the SABC’s overall financial position and results of operations.

In addition, the SABC has planned for contingent liabilities which comprise of claims lodged by third parties against it which in some cases, may be reduced by a counter-claim for insurance.

Financial position of the SABC and foreseeable impact on its operations

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

You will have to recall that when the Zuma Administration took over in 2009 from the previous administration, the SABC’s governance and financial health was in tatters.  In fact the SABC experienced corporate governance crises late 2007 when there was an ‘alleged’ interference in the appointment of the Board and the Executives.

During these crises, in particular, in 2008/09 financial year, the SABC lost R910 million and was forced to seek external funding elsewhere so that operational broadcasting requirements to the public would be sustained while the turnaround strategy was being conceptualize to ensure future potential corporative governance crisis do not revisit the SABC.

On 24 November 2009, government announced the approval of government’s bank guarantee for R1.473 billion of which R1 billion was released to the SABC which has subsequently been paid back by the SABC which all met most of the tight conditions which were introduced. There were issues referred by the AGSA for investigated by the SIU as per the Parliament’s 2009 instructions.

Financial Matters to Date

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

So we have an SABC whose governance and audit findings has had to deal with historical or legacy issues including the reality that SABC has not had unqualified audit since then. In this regard, the Corporation sought to redress matters previously reported by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) whilst balancing the provision of its broadcasting services as required by law.

To date the Board assisted by Management has resolved more than 90 per cent of the issues that were raised by the AGSA. To this end, they only have one audit findings.

Drop in revenue enhancement but SABC still a going concerns

Honourable Chairperson and Honourable Members,

The SABC’s liquidity status is that of a going concern. The Corporation managed to reach more than R880 million which means they have recorded R120 million loss from the previous financial year’s R1 billion cash in the bank.

We are not happy with millions that have been lost, but we know that the SABC is reinvesting the amount in local content as highlighted before.

The SABC has invested millions in the economy, not just the over R500 million; it pays annually to SENTECH for signal distribution, however, the SABC spent millions through procuring local content production sector-with particular focus on all areas the country, just  Gauteng which was the norm in the past.

We therefore congratulate the SABC Board and Management to their foresight and the introduction of 90% local content in all platforms.

Positive outcomes from the SABC: Broadcasting of Local Government Election without government funds

We are happy to report again that the SABC lived up to its mandate and provided live coverage of debates leading up to or building-up to the local government election as well as during the elections itself.

This was carried by the SABC notwithstanding by that fact NO a single cent/ amount was given to the SABC even though the elections falls part of the’ public mandate which must be funded by government.

To this end, the SABC raised R30 million on its own to fund the broadcasting of election as no allocation was given by National Treasury. 

International Experience: on coverage of government election

In a comparative study of election news coverage by national private and public television channels in Germany, England, France, United States, research has found that “more extensive [election] coverage on public than commercial channels” in all of the European countries.

It also found that election coverage on public broadcaster was the most likely to focus on policy substance than other television station.

Similar in Denmark, Finland, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway and the United States show by scholars the same things.

Government subsidy for concessionary TV licence holders

The SABC has resolved all governance issues around the television licence database, it has not been easy but we congratulate them for this feat. We now have a clean and uncorrupted database.

The current situation is contrary to the previous situation where the SABC would even send letters of demands to deceased people or to unemployed television-owning households because their television licence database was not update.

Comrades, as the ANC led government which is pro-poor, we also need to celebrate the SABC’s concessionary television license which is given to our people at a reduced tariffs to two licence holder categories in accordance with the Broadcasting Act and the TV Licence Regulations:

These are persons of 70 years and older; and those receiving a social grant (old-age or disability) from the State. The SABC’s database currently reflects over 796 265 households with concessionary TV licences, qualifying for an annual fee of only R70.00 instead of the normal fee of R250.00 per annum.

Effectively, concessionary license holders are subsidised by the SABC, which is estimated to be ±R143million in television licence revenue that could be realized as an additional income.

Going forward governance issues facing the SABC

Exposure to International Markets; threat of weak or strong Rand to SABC

SABC is also dependent on the strengthening of rand in the market. In this regard, the SABC must ensure which is beyond its control that, mechanism exists to deal with the transactional foreign exchange risk management.

Chairperson, to acquire international content like FIFA right to broadcast its games, CAF broadcasting rights, Olympics Games, etc, no matter how much the SABC has planned for the exposure and impact future foreign currency changes that may negatively affect the value of future sales or the cost of future supplies in their operations, it is impossible to be correct as this is largely dependent on how weak or strong the rand is in international market.

Issued by GCIS on behalf of the Ministry of Communications

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