SABC board wins head of news bat­tle

Screen­ing of can­di­dates con­tin­ues

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - XOLANI MBAN­JWA and GAYE DAVIS

The SABC board has won its bat­tle over the con­tro­ver­sial ap­point­ment of Phil Molefe as head of news.

An in­ter­view panel will con­tinue its as­sess­ment of can­di­dates for the po­si­tion and make rec­om­men­da­tions to the board, in terms of an agree­ment bro­kered by Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Siphiwe Nyanda.

Nyanda stepped in af­ter fu­ri­ous board mem­bers over­turned Molefe’s ap­point­ment soon af­ter it was an­nounced by SABC group CEO Phil Mokoe­tle – af­ter a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion by board chair­man Ben Ngubane.

Ngubane re­fused yes­ter­day to dis­cuss the meet­ing with Nyanda but said: “We agreed with the share­holder (the gover nment, rep­re­sented by Nyanda) that we will keep proper prac­tices in the board. We won’t dis­cuss board mat­ters with the press.”

Board mem­bers had ar­gued that any de­ci­sion on the ap­point­ment rested with them and that last month’s an­nounce­ment pre-empted a process of screen­ing can­di­dates, which was still un­der way. This process will now pick up from where it was in­ter­rupted.

The stand-off be­tween board mem­bers and Ngubane raised fears that the SABC would once again be plunged into the bat­tles that saw the old board ousted and an in­terim board ap­pointed to cri­sis-man­age the cash-strapped pub­lic broad­caster.

Molefe had been act­ing in the in­flu­en­tial po­si­tion of head of news since the de­par­ture of Snuki Zikalala. Also short­listed for the po­si­tion were Busi­ness Day po­lit­i­cal edi­tor Karima Brown and for mer head of SABC tele­vi­sion news, Jimi Mathews.

It is un­der­stood that with the screen­ing process now set to start afresh, it is not a given that Molefe will be rec­om­mended and ap­proved for the post.

In the wake of the an­nounce­ment, mem­bers of the board passed a res­o­lu­tion not­ing a break­down of trust in their re­la­tion­ship with Ngubane.

Mokoe­tle’s ac­tions in in­sist­ing to SABC staff that Molefe was the new head of news and that his ap­point­ment would not be re­versed, de­spite the board nul­li­fy­ing it, also raised eye­brows.

Ngubane and Mokoe­tle also came un­der fire from labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu, the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers’ Union, Numsa and the SOS (Save our SABC) coali­tion, which in­cludes in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­ers and free­dom of ex­pres­sion lobby groups.

Nyanda this week would not com­ment and nei­ther would board mem­bers ap­proached by Week­end Ar­gus.

Ngubane this week also de­clined to com­ment on a meet­ing he had with Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han last week in which the SABC’s fi­nances were dis­cussed. The Na­tional Trea­sury gave the SABC a R1.4 bil­lion guar­an­tee in Septem­ber last year.

The broad­caster owed cred­i­tors around R1 bil­lion. Strict con­di­tions at­tached to the guar­an­tee re­quired that a tur naround strat­egy be drawn up to help in rais­ing funds from fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. It was un­clear this week whether the re­main­ing R473 mil­lion, which the Trea­sury had said would be granted pend­ing the broad­caster pre­sent­ing a plan with clear rev­enue tar­gets and cost­cut­ting mea­sures, had al­ready come through.

Ngubane de­clined to dis­cuss whether the SABC had met the Trea­sury’s strin­gent con­di­tions at­tached to the guar­an­tee.

“I can’t dis­cuss that mat­ter with you. It’s a se­ri­ous mat­ter for the board,” said Ngubane.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, a few days af­ter his ap­point­ment, Ngubane told Par­lia­ment’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions port­fo­lio com­mit­tee that the cor­po­ra­tion had racked up losses of R913m in the 2008-09 fi­nan­cial year.

He told MPs he be­lieved the new board would be able to turn around the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion be­fore the end of the fi­nan­cial year.

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