Today the National Council of Provinces will be holding deliberations on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill. The “Save our SABC” Campaign, representing COSATU, the Treatment Action Campaign, a host of NGOs and CBOs including the Freedom of Expression Institute, the Media Monitoring Project, and the Media Institute of Southern Africa have welcomed the Bill. We believe that it deals with major gaps around the removal of Board members in the present Broadcasting Act, 1999. The present Act only allows for the removal of individual Board members on the recommendation of the Board itself, which is clearly inadequate. However, although a number of positive amendments have been made to the Bill, a number of clauses remain problematic including present appointment procedures, failures to distinguish between executive and non-executive members to the Board, lack of criteria for the interim Board, and quorum issues.

Separation of Powers

Given the urgent need to attend to the above issues the Coalition is disappointed that so much attention has been paid to the so-called “separation of powers” debates.

Both the SABC and some other groupings are of the opinion that appointments to the SABC Board are essentially an executive function and that having the Speaker of Parliament being part of the “appointing body” is a violation of the Constitutional principles of separation of powers.

We, the Coalition, are of the view that the concept of separation of powers has very little application when it comes to the appointment of members of Boards of bodies such as the SABC. It is a universally accepted principle, in terms of international best practise, that the executive alone should never appoint the members to the Boards of public broadcasters precisely because of the danger to independence that such purely executive appointments pose.

For the Coalition, the critical issue is that a multi-party representative body, such as Parliament, has to be centrally involved in the appointments process in such a way as to guard against executive interference in appointments to the SABC Board. Thus, we support the Bill’s provisions that non-executive members of the both ordinary and interim boards of the SABC must be nominated by Parliament and that such nominations ought to be binding on the appointing body.

In our view, it makes little difference, either way, as to who, in fact, makes such appointments officially ie the President or the President acting jointly with the Speaker. The issues that we believe are of greater importance include the following:

• The Bill does not adequately address the problems around the appointments of SABC Board members which gave rise to the current crises in the first place. Consequently the Bill will not address these crises.

• The Bill does not distinguish between the appointment/removal processes for executive and non-executive members of the Board rendering the Bill’s attempt to deal with the current crises at the SABC futile, in particular, the proposed interim board will be inoperable unless such distinctions are properly made. In our view, executive appointments, ought to be made by the non-executive members of the Board only – a view, shared by the Minister as evidenced in recent court papers. This matter is a critical flaw in the current Broadcasting Act and must be addressed.

• The Bill does not currently provide for any criteria for the interim Board. This, in our view, is FAR more serious than the whether or not the Speaker plays a role in their appointment. The public has to know that only suitably qualified people can be appointed to an interim Board position.

• The Bill does not change the quorum provisions of the Broadcasting Act and as a result the interim board will not constitute a quorate board and will therefore be unable to operate.

Unless these four issues are properly addressed by Parliament before passing the Bill, the Bill will be unworkable and the current crises will remain unresolved, further weakening the SABC and damaging the public interest in the process.

For more information contact:

Kate Skinner (Campaign Coordinator) – (082) 926-6404
Prakashnee Govender (Cosatu Parliamentary Office) – (021) 461-3835
William Bird (Media Monitoring Project) – (082) 887-1370
Faiza Smith (Misa-SA) – (076) 995-9513