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Padayachie, SOS, in showdown over SABC, ICASA

Lobby group SOS Support Public Broadcasting has over the weekend dismissed most of the new communications minister's plans to stabilise SABC and strengthen ICASA, saying they are 'superficial' and fall short of taking account of deep-rooted problems facing these two institutions. This has raised fears that the country's broadcasting sector is far from being freed from the vicious circle it has been trapped in for several years.
Padayachie, SOS, in showdown over SABC, ICASA

SOS spokesperson Kate Skinner told journalists at Cosatu House in Braamfontein that any plan to stabilise the public broadcaster needs to include a clear focus on the various corporate governance breaches that have taken place at the SABC.

"Held to account"

"In particular we need to ensure that the various stakeholders involved in these breaches, including most importantly the board chairperson, are held to account," she said.

SABC board chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane, who is said to have close links with President Jacob Zuma, has been involved in a number of cases of breach of good governance, prompting the lobby group and critics to call for his resignation.

"How can someone who has been involved in many cases of good governance breaches continue to stay on as board chairperson?" Skinner asked.

"Without good governance, the SABC will not have good programming," Rehad Desai, of the South African Screen Federation (SASFED), said. "That is the main problem why the SABC has always been unstable," he pointed out.

Starting where predecessors left off?

The manner in which the group rubbished Roy Padayachie's plans to put some order in the country's broadcasting house has prompted some observers to believe that Padayachie has nothing 'new and concrete' to offer other than starting where his predecessors left off. Many believe the state of SA broadcasting sector is being further worsened by flawed legislation, most of which is drafted in the way to give the government more control of public institutions.

Desai told journalists that currently there is a blurring between state institutions and public institutions, a situation the ANC-led government has taken advantage of, and is now willing to capture all the public institutions for its own political gain.

With regards to legislation, Skinner said her organisation was disappointed by the minister's stated intention to push the Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) and ICASA Amendment Bills through in the first quarter of 2011. "We believe that these bills are seriously flawed to an extent that there is rather a clear and overwhelming need for a full policy review process," she stated.

Issue directives to the SABC

In terms of the PSB Bill, the communications minister could at any time issue directives to the SABC and community media on 'any matter connected to public service broadcasting' if the entity is unable to 'perform its functions as prescribed in this Act'.

The ICASA Bill also gives the minister the 'right' to chair the evaluation panel of councillors, whose committee has the power to remove councillors.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) head of policy Prinola Govenden said the important gap in the minister's commitment to 'strengthen' ICASA lies in the commitment to proper resourcing - one of the major reasons of the regulator's lacking efficiency and capacity.

MMA head William Bird said if these two bills go through in their current form, it will mean the end of the independent regulation and broadcasting in South Africa.

For more, go to www.supportpublicbroadcasting.co.za and follow @sos_za on Twitter.

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About Issa Sikiti da Silva

Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to Bizcommunity.com as a senior news writer.

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