Hlaudi’s en­forcers haunt broad­caster

CityPress - - Voices - Janet Heard voices@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @janet­heard

The SABC 8 will be re­mem­bered for their courage in ex­pos­ing Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng’s reign of ter­ror. The group trig­gered a clean-up at the pub­lic broad­caster.

But the SABC 8 may be re­mem­bered for a lot more in years to come.

The SABC 8, smaller in num­ber af­ter the shock­ing death of Suna Ven­ter, know that the reme­dies in place to fix the broad­caster will not guar­an­tee long-term pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity, and will not in­su­late the SABC from po­lit­i­cal bul­ly­ing fur­ther down the line.

They know that the cur­rent model of gov­er­nance is in­con­sis­tent with the SABC’s man­date. They know that in­ter­fer­ence and in­fight­ing are likely to in­fect even the best in­ten­tions of new, ex­em­plary board mem­bers.

The weak­ness stems from how the board is se­lected each term – by mem­bers of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, with the ma­jor­ity party hold­ing sway. The process is sus­cep­ti­ble to cadre de­ploy­ment, ma­nip­u­la­tion and self-in­ter­est.

Four mem­bers of the SABC 8 – Than­deka Gqubule, Busi Ntuli, Vuyo Mvoko and Kri­vani Pil­lay – learnt about al­ter­na­tive pub­lic tele­vi­sion gov­er­nance mod­els dur­ing a tour of Ger­many ear­lier this year. They were guests of the Kon­rad-Ade­nauer-Stiftung foun­da­tion. Inkatha Free­dom Party whip Liezl van der Merwe, who ac­com­pa­nied the group, said: “You can’t rely on politi­cians to ap­point the board be­cause then po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence is built into the sys­tem from the start.”

In Ger­many, those re­spon­si­ble for gov­er­nance in­clude in­dus­try ex­perts and civil so­ci­ety mem­bers from mi­grant, re­li­gious, gay and other com­mu­ni­ties. Politi­cians have marginal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Board meet­ings are trans­par­ent. Mem­bers serve out of pub­lic duty, not fi­nan­cial in­ter­est or cadre de­ploy­ment.

The SABC group has a long-term vi­sion to save the pub­lic broad­caster. With the help of MPs such as Van der Merwe, they plan to in­tro­duce a pri­vate mem­bers’ bill to Par­lia­ment that amends sec­tion 12 of the Broad­cast­ing Act. They have con­sulted a le­gal firm. Lob­by­ing has be­gun.

A new gov­er­nance model would help pro­tect the SABC from po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence and from be­com­ing em­broiled in fac­tional party bat­tles.

Lessons have been learnt re­cently, but pub­lic vigilance is needed. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma al­ready showed his ex­ec­u­tive power by de­lay­ing the sig­noff of the new board last week. Tox­i­c­ity within the news­room re­mains, de­spite valiant ef­forts by the in­terim board to clean things up. Last week, dur­ing an unan­nounced visit to Auck­land Park, Van der Merwe found “a cul­ture of fear was still there”. Hlaudi’s en­forcers were still around and the im­pact of fund mis­man­age­ment was glar­ingly ev­i­dent. Ma­nip­u­la­tion and self-cen­sor­ship were still at play, with re­lent­less pres­sure ahead of the ANC’s elec­tive con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.

De­spite pos­i­tive signs of a turn­around, the pat­tern will prob­a­bly con­tinue and the wheels will fall off again in three or four years. The def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity is do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults.

For last­ing change, a fun­da­men­tal shift in the com­po­si­tion and se­lec­tion of the board is needed. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the pub­lic must get be­hind the SABC 8 when the pri­vate mem­bers’ bill is tabled.

You can’t rely on politi­cians to ap­point the board

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