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Transforming the SABC (again!)

“There are enough zealots on both sides who kindle up the passions of their partisans and, under pretence of public good, pursue the interests and ends of their particular faction. For my part I shall always be fonder of promoting moderation than zeal, and though perhaps the surest way of producing moderation in every party is to increase our zeal for the public. Let us therefore try, if it be possible from the foregoing doctrine, to draw a lesson of moderation with regard to the parties into which our country is at present divided, at the same time that we allow not this moderation to abate the industry and passion with which every individual is bound to pursue the good of his country.” David Hume

If General Nyanda suspects any wrongdoing he has the right to stop any payment due to be made by the SABC. Indeed if the General has cogent reason to believe that any person or group came to hold or benefit from contracts to supply the SABC with content through any means that may in any way violate the precepts of the principles of honest, ethical and diligent corporate governance or that violate the norms of openness, transparency and accountability or that any of these contracts were obtained or issued as a result of any inducement, incentive, suggestion, instigation, bribery, coercion, extortion, racketeering, money laundering, corruption, nepotism or impropriety of any sort then he may impede the transactions as expected and institute a thorough forensic investigation of each and every contract.

Unfortunately this will mean that content which is of a lower quality and was manufactured by people who have relationships, whether specific or general in nature, with employees, agents, representatives or regulators of the SABC will attract a greater amount of attention during these forensic investigations.

This will also mean that content commissioned for the purpose of achieving the broadcast of politicised messages that bolster and reinforce the messages of the ruling party’s own manifesto will also attract a greater amount of attention during these forensic investigations.

To make things simpler, the good General has two very simple tasks. Firstly to implement what his colleagues in the parliamentary portfolio committee on communications direct him to do and secondly ensure the SABC does not violate the precepts of its broadcast licence, which are principally that the SABC shall be the public broadcaster.

Now if we are to look at what the SABC has been doing in aid of achieving its objectives, perhaps we will find the real cause of its crises. The issues of the conditions of employment must go beyond the non-payment of salaries. The issues of the conditions of content supply must also go beyond the non-payment of contracts. And the issues of mismanagement must certainly go beyond the state of the SABC’s board.

In order to resolve the SABC crises, I believe we need to do the following:

  1. Rearrange the SABC in order to separate the television channels, radio stations, internal productions (like SABC News and SABC Sport) the external productions (ie the commissioned and wholesaling content providers) the broadcast facilities, production facilities and corporate management of the SABC, into distinct businesses that are neither bound to each other nor which exclusively supply each other with products or services.
  2. Establish the means by which free-to-air public broadcast licences may be obtained by any new television company subject to the technical frequency limitations and the installation of signal distributing hardware on existing towers.
  3. Establish SABC News International as a 24-hour free-to-air television channel that is also broadcast via a new dedicated radio frequency.
  4. Establish SABC Sport as a 24-hour free-to-air television channel that is also broadcast via a new dedicated radio frequency.
  5. Establish Unisa TV as a 24-hour free-to-air television channel that is also broadcast via a new dedicated radio frequency.
  6. Rationalise and refocus all of the SABC’s radio stations with a view to limiting duplication and ensuring specialised radio station offerings to the public.
  7. Rationalise and refocus the three existing SABC television channels such that the 25 official and protected languages are represented (in the percentage of content) in relation to the prevalence of each language in the country and this shall include the regional specialisation of the three existing television channels.
  8. Extend the provnice of Electronic Communications Security (Pty) Ltd (Comsec) to include the SABC, the licensor of the SABC, all related persons, divisions, commissions, statutory councils and institutions as well as the external suppliers to the SABC and their owners, employees, agents and suppliers in turn.
  9. Arrest, charge, convict, imprison and rehabilitate everyone who provides us with evidence of malfeasance and criminality through appropriate sting operations as a result of the insights received via the Comsec monitoring.

Well that’s what I would do if I was General Nyanda. But since the SABC board is appointed by parliament and since it is licensed by a regulator that is created by the DoC, then I will also say that perhaps the SABC crises is evidence that the transformation project we have undertaken has, at times, been driven by our political objectives rather than our public information and education objectives and that perhaps we should have people who are not bound to resonate their master(s) voices but be responsible enough to give voice to the people’s aspirations.

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