The SABC mess shows the danger of the ruling party deploying its activists to run important state institutions, writes the Sunday Times in an editorial. There is an opportunity now, though, to sort everything out.

The Sunday Times writes in an editorial:

Corporate governance and effective management at the SABC has all
but collapsed as a result of the fight in the ruling ANC for political
control of the public broadcaster.

The CEO of the SABC, Dali Mpofu, was suspended by the
board after he suspended the corporation’s Head of News, Snuki
Zikalala. Now Parliament’s communications committee has passed a vote
of no confidence in the SABC board. The committee is believed to
broadly back ANC president Jacob Zuma, while President Thabo Mbeki has
packed the board with his supporters. Mpofu, who was deployed to the
SABC by Mbeki, is now seen as being in the Zuma camp, while Zikalala is
said to be aligned with Mbeki supporters. All of this depends on who is
your guide to the political maze that has sprung up around the SABC.

Importantly, this messy state of affairs shows the danger
of the ruling party deploying its activists to run important state
institutions — which are meant to be independent and serve the people
of South Africa. Besides undermining the independence of institutions
of democracy, this ensures that the institutions suffer when the
activists fall out of favour.

Both factions are determined to control the SABC during
the political battles raging at the moment — and in preparation for the
general election to be held next year. Both sides want to turn the
public broadcaster into a tool for their own propaganda. But the bottom
line is that ANC and government interference in the SABC has brought an
institution — which should be helping to build the country and
democracy — to its knees.

There is only one way to sort out the debacle: much of
the present board and management of the SABC must be cleared out and
replaced with people committed to building a proper public broadcaster.

The SABC Act clearly outlines what is required by the
members of such a board, and by senior management, for that matter. It
says that, when viewed collectively, they must be suited to serve by
virtue of their qualifications and expertise in broadcast policy and
technology, media law, finance, journalism, entertainment, education
and social and labour issues. It goes on say that they must be
committed to fairness, freedom of expression, the right of the public
to be informed and accountability on the part of those holding public
office, and represent a broad cross sectio n of the population of the

This is the ideal chance for the SABC to rebuild itself
from scratch. There is a mood of renewal and a sense of openness in the
land, and the SABC must take advantage of this. The post-Polokwane ANC
leadership must not make the mistake of wanting to stuff the board and
the executive with its own band of like-minded acolytes.

The new board must be drawn from across society, and
represent NGOs, the trade unions, the religious sector, the business
community and other interested stakeholders — and it must allow
journalists to get on with their jobs.

With a skilled and committed board in place, it will be the duty of those journalists to produce excellence.


> * This editorial first appeared on 11 May 2008. >