Which is the true Mot­soe­neng?

CityPress - - Voices -

Af­ter years of tur­bu­lence, the ram­bunc­tious chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer (COO) of the SABC, Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng, has brought a sense of di­rec­tion and sta­bil­ity to the pub­lic broad­caster.

Ever since the mid-1990s, the SABC has lilted as the gov­ern­ing party has lacked di­rec­tion on what it wants for the Auck­land Park me­dia gi­ant.

Was it to be a Western-styled pub­lic broad­caster or a clas­sic, de­vel­op­ing world state broad­caster to bol­ster not only gov­ern­ment, but the gov­ern­ing party too?

The laws are clear. The SABC statutes are writ­ten in pub­lic broad­cast­ing best prac­tice, where an in­de­pen­dent board is man­dated to over­see the or­gan­i­sa­tion and to keep it in­su­lated from po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence and in­flu­ence. Poli­cies on lo­cal con­tent, po­lit­i­cal coverage and prac­tice are con­tained in its ar­ti­cles of as­so­ci­a­tion.

But Mot­soe­neng has up­ended that plan and pro­vided a clear di­rec­tion. The SABC is a state broad­caster to bol­ster the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment tra­jec­tory and to down­play South Africa’s pen­chant for protest.

In May, Mot­soe­neng de­cided that the SABC would no longer cover protests, largely on tele­vi­sion – a move pil­lo­ried by the in­tel­li­gentsia but wel­comed by many or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

In ad­di­tion, Mot­soe­neng has won sig­nif­i­cant cre­ative in­dus­try ku­dos with his edicts that lo­cal con­tent on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion be im­me­di­ately lifted to 90% and 65%, re­spec­tively.

The SABC stands mast and aerial above any other medium as the most watched and lis­tened to broad­cast plat­form, so its sup­port for lo­cal mu­sic and con­tent is un­sur­passed.

And, while the pun­ditry may pil­lory the red-eyed COO, Mot­soe­neng is a fig­ure of chutz­pah and as­pi­ra­tion. Without ma­tric, he has risen to the top of the broad­caster, earns as much as Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and ig­nores court judg­ments as well as find­ings by Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela.

With a his­tory in strug­gle, South Africa is a coun­try that likes a ban­dit who thumbs his nose at author­ity. In Mot­soe­neng, this part of our DNA has an un­likely hero. He is go­ing nowhere. The head­line-grab­bing chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the SABC can be read by dif­fer­ent au­di­ences in dif­fer­ent ways. This is why he is in­su­lated from ac­count­abil­ity, writes Fe­rial Haf­fa­jee

Has SABC chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng gone rogue? Has he cap­tured the SABC, and is he run­ning it like Con­golese strong­man Mobutu Sese Seko ran Zaire?

Con­sider that in the past year, Mot­soe­neng has on his own in­struc­tion or us­ing prox­ies: Canned the pro­gramme The Edi­tors on SAfm; Canned the air­ing of an in­ter­view with Deputy Fi­nance Min­is­ter Mce­bisi Jonas;

Banned vi­su­als of protests on SABC tele­vi­sion and on­line;

Banned the read­ing of news head­lines from other me­dia on the SABC;

Lifted lo­cal con­tent quo­tas for mu­sic and pro­gram­ming without con­sult­ing any­body or any or­gan­i­sa­tion;

In­sti­tuted a good news quota without con­sult­ing staff, Par­lia­ment or any in­sti­tu­tion; and

Ig­nored a court judg­ment that he is oc­cu­py­ing his post il­le­gally.

This ev­i­dence proves that the SABC, a pub­licly owned as­set, has been cap­tured by Mot­soe­neng, a fortysome­thingyear-old for­mer jour­nal­ist-turned-me­dia ex­ec­u­tive. He reigns from the Free State, where he bul­lied him­self to the top of Auck­land Park. How does he stay in power?

Mot­soe­neng is a clas­sic pa­tron; he rules by cre­at­ing cir­cles of pa­tron­age around him. He has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased the man­age­rial band at the SABC, thus push­ing many staff into the higher liv­ing stan­dards mea­sure and en­sur­ing their loy­alty. He ap­points staff from this in­ner cir­cle to top po­si­tions, where they carry out his edicts or gather in­tel­li­gence on where dis­sent may be grow­ing.

The SABC is gifted with ex­cel­lent jour­nal­ists who do not like its de­scent into apartheid-style cen­sor­ship. But th­ese peo­ple are kept in check by Mot­soe­neng’s pa­trons.

The ANC is nei­ther happy with the joke the broad­caster has be­come, nor with its cap­ture by the up­start red-eyed ex­ec­u­tive, but it is pow­er­less to do any­thing. Mot­soe­neng has, with his ally Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Faith Muthambi, in­su­lated him­self by hand-pick­ing the SABC board, which is tooth­less in his un­ceas­ing grab at power.

And, he is ru­moured to be a favourite of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, although this has never been proven and may be part of the ur­ban leg­end that Mot­soe­neng has em­broi­dered to se­cure the pub­lic broad­caster as his per­sonal fief­dom.

PHOTO: JAN RIGHT

PA­TRI­OTIC Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng’s push for lo­cal con­tent and sun­shine jour­nal­ism has been cen­sured by pun­dits but praised by many or­di­nary cit­i­zens

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