SA Communist Party (SACP) general secretary Blade Nzimande has renewed calls for the dissolution of the current board of the SABC, saying the public broadcaster is now infested with active members of the ANC breakaway party, writes Andile Makholwa.

 

Nzimande says the SABC has “unashamedly” sided with Musioua Lekota’s newly formed Congress of the People party in its reporting because this is the group it supported in the run-up to the ANC’s Polokwane conference.

Nzimande was a speaking at a panel discussion at Wits University yesterday on whether the SABC was becoming a state broadcaster.

“If I were to be blunt, the SABC has not become a state broadcaster, it’s become something worse than that,” said Nzimande, adding that the “unrepresentative” board has worsened the problems currently facing the public broadcaster.
The SABC has recently come under criticism from the ruling party following its coverage of the November 2-3 national convention called by Lekota and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, which coincided with the ANC rally in Soweto.

The ANC accused the SABC of biased reporting in favour of Lekota’s national convention, and subsequently summoned the management to its headquarters for a meeting.  

Executive Director of the Freedom of Expression Institute, Dr Jane Duncan, said that characteristics of a state broadcaster started creeping into the SABC with the introduction of the Broadcasting Act in the late 1990s, which gave the Minister of Communications a veto power in the appointment of  the SABC’s group chief executive and two other senior positions at the SABC.

She said such ministerial powers were “deeply compromising” of the independence of the public broadcaster and would have to be addressed to prevent the SABC from falling into the trap of becoming a state broadcaster.

Another panellist, Professor Anton Harber of the journalism programme at Wits, said that while the SABC has changed from what it used to be during apartheid, it was now in danger of becoming a party organ.

Harber said the attendance of the ANC meeting by the SABC management was improper, and had opened up a can of worms as other political parties and interest groups could also seek similar meetings in future and the SABC would not be justified in turning them down.   

He said that some of the problems at the SABC emanated from the fact that the public broadcaster was run by people who identified themselves as deployed cadres of the ANC.

“When the ANC was divided, those divisions played themselves out in the SABC, creating conflict and divisions within … and rendered the management of the SABC largely dysfunctional,” he said.

However, former City Press editor in chief Mathatha Tsedu said the SABC has not become a state broadcaster. There were efforts by the ruling party to turn it into party machinery, he said, and the SABC needed friends to fight those efforts.
He said the SABC had taken a costly path by opening bureaus in some cities throughout the world to give South Africans a good balance to the CNN- and BBC-dominated broadcasting of foreign affairs.

Board member Alison Gillward conceded that the public broadcaster faced serious challenges, but progress made since the dawn of the democratic era had to be appreciated with regards to transformation.

She said there was a need to look at the institutional arrangements that establish the SABC board and the appointment of senior personnel as part of dealing with the current challenges.

She cautioned that some of the proposed changes such as the “arbitrary removal” of the board seemed to compound the problems rather dealing with them.