SABC Bill kicks the can down the road

The SABC Bill does not adequately address the SABC’s main challenge: funding

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16/01/2024 07:53:08

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 SABC Bill kicks the can down the road

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) believes that it is of utmost importance to ensure that the SABC has strong legislation and policies that govern it to enable the entity to restore public trust and to guarantee editorial independence.

It is an undeniable fact that the SABC has been plagued, for years, by financial instability and management issues. OUTA believes this has contributed to the erosion of trust in the public broadcaster.

There is no doubt about SABC’s value as a public broadcaster and OUTA believes this role needs support. In particular, the SABC’s funding is one of the most critical areas of the SABC’s model that has failed – and something the new SABC Bill unsuccessfully tries to address.

OUTA says this in a submission to the Portfolio Committee on Communications and Digital Technologies on the SABC Bill, which has been out for public comment.

“OUTA is of the view that the bill has effectively kicked the funding can down the road by not laying out any specific changes or proposals,” says Andrea van Heerden, OUTA’s Senior Legal Project Manager.

OUTA raised the concern that the three-year delay in developing a funding model, as proposed in the bill, could put the SABC in a more difficult financial position, as its finances are already on shaky ground with the SABC recording a R1.1 billion net loss for the 2023 financial year.

OUTA is of the opinion that a long-term solution is of utmost importance and, while it is pleasing to see government consider an alternative funding model, OUTA is concerned about how long it will take to identify and implement such an alternative. The SABC needs financial certainty for the interim period, which the bill does not provide.

“Instead of the bill dealing with the SABC’s financial crisis, TV licences remain, and deliberations on a new funding model are kicked down the road for three years. More so, the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, in consultation with the Minister of Finance, alone is tasked with identifying a new funding model,” says Van Heerden.

OUTA in its submission again urges the committee to consider a regular annual state grant for the SABC’s public broadcasting services, instead of flogging the dead TV licence fee collection model. This would avoid the irregular and disastrous last-minute bailouts but provide a more stable revenue stream particularly for the public broadcasting sector.

“This regular annual state grant could be seen as a grant in the furtherance of democracy. OUTA suggests cutting funding to wasteful programmes and diverting some of this to the SABC. For example, the national and provincial legislatures could provide some funding in the furtherance of democracy. These institutions manage to provide hundreds of millions of rand to political parties to support democracy. OUTA believes that some of these funds could be more usefully diverted to the SABC,” says van Heerden.

Although OUTA supports the continued existence of a national broadcaster, we believe that the proposed SABC Bill of 2023 fails to address critical issues of financial sustainability and raises red flags of government interference in the commercial and operational aspects of the SABC. OUTA therefore urges the committee to refer this bill back to the Department of Communication and Digital Technologies.

More information

OUTA’s submission on the SABC Bill is here.

A soundclip with comment from OUTA Senior Legal Project Manager Andrea van Heerden in English is here.
A soundclip with comment from OUTA Executive Director Advocate Stefanie Fick in Afrikaans is here.

The draft SABC Bill 2023 is here.

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