On 16 October 2008 the NCOP held its deliberations on the 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 argued that although we welcomed the Bill, a few key amendments were necessary.

Problems included appointment procedures, failures to distinguish between executive and non-executive members to the Board, and lack of criteria for the interim Board.

We are happy to see that the NCOP has, in line with our submission, made amendments to the quorum clauses in the Broadcasting Act, 1999. The Broadcasting Act stipulated that a quorum was nine members of the Board. However, the interim Board at full strength was only eight members. Without amendments to the quorum clauses the interim board would not have been able to sit. The quorum clause has now been amended to include a quorum of six members for the interim board.

There are however still critical problem areas which the NCOP did not address, and the proposed amendments in fact make it easier to dissolve the Board of the SABC – limiting due process in such event.

Remaining problem areas

Remaining problem areas include:

• 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. For instance one of the major gaps in the Bill is that it does not include provisions for the appointment of executive members to the Board. Following international best practice the Coalition believes that the non-executive members of the Board should appoint the executive members (rather than in consultation with the Minister of Communications as is the current practice). This will immediately solve a number of the current problems with appointments.

• The Bill does not sufficiently distinguish between executive and non-executive board members in its appointment/ removal processes. This could make the proposed interim board inoperable. The Bill talks about the removal of the whole Board but in fact it should refer only to the removal of the non-executive members as a collective. The executive members of the Board need to remain to form part of the interim Board.

• The Bill does not currently provide for any criteria for appointments to the interim Board. But the public has to have confidence that only suitably qualified people are eligible to be appointed to an interim Board position.

• Finally, amendments have been made at the NCOP stage to clauses dealing with the removal of Board members as a collective. The Bill set out three criteria for the removal of Board members as a collective which all had to be considered before dissolution of such Board. These included not fulfilling their “fiduciary duties”, not adhering to the Charter and not “controlling the affairs of the Corporation”. The word “and” was used to ensure that the Board members as a collective could only be removed if the Board did not fulfil all of these conditions. However, the word “and” has now been amended to “or”. The Board can now be removed for a single reason. This has substantially reduced the hurdle for the entire Board to be removed. Further to this, the Coalition had called for the words “due process” to be added to these clauses to ensure that “due process” was specifically followed in the removal of Board members. We note that these words have not been added.

The Bill will be returning to the Portfolio Committee for final amendments. We sincerely hope that the Committee will make the necessary changes as suggested by SOS.

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