The SABC must fight a "culture of mediocrity" while also dealing with its own financial crisis, board member Bheki Khumalo said, writes Kenichi Serino for journalism.co.za.
During a panel discussion at Wits University, he complained of what he described as a mentality of financial irresponsibility among SABC employees.
"[They say], 'I want to be a Group CEO but I don't know anything about finances.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The finance people must handle that'.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â That's the culture of mediocrity at the SABC we need to end," said Khumalo.
He added that there were financial constraints on media organisations in South Africa.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Talented journalists often take jobs in management because their salaries as journalists reach a plateau.
"I think there's an issue of capacity to make things more exciting," said Khumalo, "because of the payscales we lose the talent.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Khumalo was speaking as part of a panel discussion at the University of Witwatersrand, 'Is the SABC biased in our media coverage?'Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Also on the panel were Anton Harber, Caxton Chair of Journalism at Wits, Kate Skinner, co-ordinator of the Save our SABC Coalition, and William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa.
Last year, the SABC came under fire by some in the African National Congress for its coverage of ANC-breakaway party, Congress of the People.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â They were accused of giving the new party too much coverage.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Later, the SABC came under fire for refusing to cover Cope's launch of its election manifesto live.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The SABC argued that it was only obliged to cover the manifesto launches of political parties with representation in parliament.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Cope, as it was launched only this year, has no representation.
Khumalo said the SABC was required to follow regulator rules in terms of coverage as well its broader mandate.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â "There must be a coverage of the mosaic of political opinion in the country," said Khumalo.
Harber countered that "numerical" solutions in providing electoral coverage would be a dead-end and the SABC should hand responsibilty to news decision-makers.
"The SABC has to have the confidence to make editorial decisions on what's best for their audience," said Harber.
Bird said that by focusing on election coverage with regards to political parties, there was a risk that voters themselves would be ignored. "We get the sense that elections are about parties.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â [Rather], they're about the people who go to vote."
"From the SABC we expect more and want them to have the citizen's agenda," said Bird.
Khumalo came under fire for his personal position. Other panelists argued that his position as spokesperson for the Department of Minerals and Energy, and former presidential spokesperson, should disqualify him from taking the position of chair of the boardÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s news subcommittee.
Khumalo said he was the only person on the board with direct experience of journalism, and said double standards at play saw far more criticism directed at people with political connections than those with commercial connections.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â There would be a restructuring of the committees soon in any event, he added.