The SABC needs cleaning out from the top down, writes Business Day in an editorial.And the best place to start will be the Broadcasting Act.
CONSENSUS at last: the SABC is dysfunctional from the top down and the procedure for appointing its board requires urgent review.
Just about everybody harbouring even the vaguest suspicion that a well-managed and nonpartisan public broadcaster might be an asset to a developmental state has been saying precisely this for some time, of course, but now it is official.
Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who stated in the National Assembly earlier this week that the legislation governing the SABC would be reviewed, unsurprisingly placed a positive spin on the move.
A "very positive outcome" of the recent spat between the parliamentary portfolio committee and SABC board had been "a national focus on what our national broadcaster should be; what it should do to meet the needs of all and not some; and how it should be governed," she said.
What she neglected to mention was that it was the actions of the executive, and the Presidency in particular, in interfering with the process of appointing the most recent SABC board, that caused the fuss in the first place.
It is also supremely ironic that it was the same government the minister now represents that rushed the Broadcasting Bill into law in 1998, ignoring a range of valid concerns, including that the process for appointing the SABC board was flawed and thus vulnerable to political interference.
The Freedom of Expression Institute has pointed out that large chunks of the Broadcasting Act were simply cut-and-pasted from British, Australian and Canadian legislation. Of the 16 objectives that comprise the SABC Charter, 10 were taken almost verbatim from the charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which may be a worthy document, but can hardly be expected to reflect the needs and aspirations of South Africans.
Ultimately, it does not matter whether Matsepe-Casaburri is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons; the fact that the legislation is to be sent back to the drawing board should be welcomed. And she is right to caution whatever changes are made must not compromise board independence.
It is essential the SABC board be held accountable, but not, as some members of the communications committee seem to believe, to our ruling party-dominated Parliament. Sorting out the SABC is too important to be left to politicians, whether they represent the executive or legislature.
There is a need for a full public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the board's appointment, its recent conduct — especially its failed attempts to suspend group CE Dali Mpofu — and the performance of the executive directors, Mpofu included.
The SABC experienced a Prague Spring for a brief period from shortly before the first democratic elections in 1994 to a little while after the Broadcasting Act was promulgated in 1998. That was because the first SABC board of the n ew SA was chosen by a selection panel of the great and good, headed by two judges, from the nominations put forward by civil society.
It is surely no coincidence that the rot set in as soon as a law was hastily passed to facilitate the selection of a new board when the first board's term ran out, and Parliament appropriated the task of drawing up a short list for the president to choose from.