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Dismay over minister's plan for SABC board

New Communications Minister Faith Muthambi wants to strip parliament of the power to fire disruptive members of the SABC board and have that authority given to her.
Muthambi also plans to reduce the number of seats on the public broadcaster's board from 12 to about five, saying its current size is too big and expensive.

But Muthambi's intentions have been met with opposition from political parties and civil society organisations.

In an interview this week, Muthambi said she would soon be proposing changes to the Broadcasting Act of 2009, specifically seeking powers to fire board members without consulting the National Assembly.

In terms of the act, an SABC director or the entire board can be removed from office only by a decision of the National Assembly following a "due inquiry" by the portfolio committee on communications.

(Image: GCIS)
But Muthambi, a former member of the communications committee, said the process was too cumbersome and wasted time - it did not allow her to act speedily when dealing with troublesome board members.

"It is tough for us to do oversight on the SABC board," she said, adding that the intention was not to take power from parliament.

"There's no provision on how to fire or reprimand a board member. It's a tedious process in the sense that you will have to wait for quite some time, whereas hell is breaking loose.

"We need to put it in line with the King III corporate governance," she said, referring to the report by retired judge Mervyn King.

Chaos, conflict, crises

The SABC has had three permanent boards since 2007, two interim boards and a litany of individual member resignations amid boardroom squabbles that have plunged the organisation into governance and financial crises.

The SABC's 12 directors were paid R4.3-million just to attend meetings in the financial year that ended in March 2013.

The minister said an ideal number of board members would be five or six, especially because the government performs an oversight function.

The Save Our SABC coalition, a public broadcasting lobby group, said Muthambi's plan was fraught with danger and would turn the broadcaster into a government mouthpiece.

"The notion of amending the act to bring [the board] further under control of the executive is preposterous," said the coalition's Sekoetlane Phamodi. "[The Broadcasting Act] underscores the very essence of state broadcasting and not public broadcasting."

He said giving a minister power to fire directors was "very dangerous".

DA MP Gavin Davis said his party would reject Muthambi's proposed amendments in parliament.

"The proposed change to the act is an ominous step towards the erosion of freedom of information and access to a diversity of views," said Davis.

"Giving the minister absolute power to remove the board will make board members beholden to the governing party instead of the people of South Africa; their removal should be done by parliament on behalf of all South Africans."

Source: Sunday Times, via I-Net Bridge


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