Which is the true Motsoeneng?
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.
PATRIOTIC Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s push for local content and sunshine journalism has been censured by pundits but praised by many ordinary citizens