What hope is there for SABC?

File: Media Monitoring Africa's programme coordinator Sarah Findlay said retrenchments should always be seen as a last resort.

File: Media Monitoring Africa's programme coordinator Sarah Findlay said retrenchments should always be seen as a last resort.


A fish rots from the head, the old Chinese saying tells us.

There’s currently no better place to apply this adage than the SABC where a new skills survey shows that top executives over there are not only breathtakingly clueless when it comes to the jobs they are supposed to be doing, but they also do not have the proper qualifications to execute their mandate.

What hope, therefore, for mid-level managers and their subordinates?

Starting at the very top: Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the acting chief operating officer who has in the past pointed out that on his watch the corporation would not be employing people who do not have some tertiary education, himself has a matric qualification that has been questioned.

A PriceWaterhouseCoopers audit report presented to the National Assembly’s communications portfolio committee on Tuesday reveals that:

* of the 842 job titles sampled, the qualifications of a significant number of employees (577) were “not authentic”, “incomplete” or awarded b fly-by-night “tertiary institutions” many of which do no longer exist;

* 60 percent of executives and senior managers did not meet the minimum requirements for strategic thinking at an executive level;

* 56 percent were not able to demonstrate adequate competency in solving problems and making decisions; and

* 35 percent showed disregard for financial information, viewing it “at a superficial level”.

In other words running a national asset like a spaza shop. The corporation currently has no full-time head of news. And news is supposed to be the core business of the organisation. Speak of an organisation on autopilot.

I realise that the afore-going comments might be viewed by some through the prism of a writer whose bread is buttered by etv, an independent competitor of the SABC.

Rest assured, I am writing this wearing my cap as a concerned citizen of South Africa, and a conscientious holder of a TV licence.

The SABC is a national broadcaster whose mandate flows from our constitution, and is accountable – or should be accountable – to this dear republic of ours, and the general public at large.

The audit report is not saying anything we did not expect. It is the gravity of the situation, the direness of the crisis that should shock us into the realisation that the credibility and integrity of our national broadcaster, which we should be proud of, is almost being deemed irredeemable.

You have to sit up and notice when criticism and concern over the situation is coming not only from outside, but also from within the top echelons of the corporation itself.

Professor Bongani Khumalo, chairman of the SABC board sub-committee for human resources and remuneration, is on record as having said the situation was indeed dire.

What is clear, and Khumalo seems to agree, is that the organisation needs an urgent and comprehensive overhaul. For some years now they have been mouthing platitudes about a “turn-around” of the organisation.

And of course, consultant after consultant have been paid huge amounts of money to effect this elusive “turn-around”. But nothing concrete or sustainable has been achieved.

Once again, it goes back to the top – where the rot is supposed to start. The SABC board has seen new appointments every year since President Jacob Zuma’s administration took office in 2009.

In July 2009, the president appointed an interim board, chaired by Irene Charnley. Its mandate was for six months, after which a new board took over, chaired by Dr. Ben Ngubane, the erstwhile minister of arts and culture.

Barely a year into its term, the board imploded. Ngubane’s appointment of journalist Phil Molefe as head of news saw four members resigning in protest.

In 2011, Zuma found replacements for them. But in the meantime, Peter Harris, a lawyer, resigned.

He was replaced in January the following year by Thami ka Plaatjie, the former PAC leader who had very publicly crossed the floor to the ANC.

As the revolving door circus continued, Ka Plaatjie and Ngubane resigned following disagreements with fellow board members over the appointment of Hlaudi Motsoeneng as COO.

Hardly a week later, six other board members resigned, leading to the appointment of a second interim board in four years.

The instability at board level has inevitably had a ripple effect on the entire organisation. And what you are left with is a rudderless organisation that has become an embarrassment to the nation.

What is clearly needed is a firm intervention by the minister to appoint a strong executive team to effect the much-vaunted turn-around strategy.

But it will have to be a team unencumbered by reported political interference from Luthuli House – if such interference does, in fact, happen. In a word a team with cojones of  steel.

Maybe another way of putting it would be: is there political will on the part of government to have a strong SABC executive team that will act on its mandate by delivering coverage that is balanced, yet critical, where all political players enjoy share of voice, where journalists will not be afraid to break stories that might embarrass the powers that be – as reportedly happened during the booing incident at FNB where the cameramen were instructed to train their equipment elsewhere.

That, in my opinion, is the hurdle that needs to be jumped before anyone can tell us about a turn-around strategy for our national broadcaster.

* Follow me on twitter, @FredKhumalo

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