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Citizens living in the remotest parts of the country have a right to watch television programming with local content – and in the languages spoken in their regions – even if it costs taxpayers “a lot of money”, the ANC's policy conference has recommended.
Briefing journalists on the outcomes of the communication commission's deliberations at the party's policy conference Thursday, ANC veteran and former cabinet minister, Pallo Jordan said the ANC was not suggesting that “we must bankrupt the citizenry”, but that if it was agreed that public television was “desirable”, then a sustainable funding model for the SABC had to be found.
The current model (which has seen the cash-guzzling broadcaster receiving government bail-outs and loan guarantees of about R2.5 billion over the past four years) was clearly not working, Jordan said.
National Treasury reported last year that the SABC would need a further R7bn in public funding to see it through to 2014. Meanwhile, the National Prosecuting Authority is pursuing criminal cases against several SABC staffers after the Special Investigating Unit last year uncovered financial irregularities to the tune of about R1.7bn.
Jordan said the SABC’s commercial funding options were limited by the fact that the broadcaster was required to serve people “who don’t have money to spend, so advertisers are not really interested in them”.
“What happens is that because the people in Pofadder are considered irrelevant by advertisers, in the end, because the public broadcaster is dependent on advertisers, it (also) treats them as irrelevant – and it should not”, Jordan said.
Jordan said delegates had not delved into the specifics of funding, but had agreed that funding models elsewhere in the world should be looked at to come up with one that would work in South Africa.
“The issue is this: is it desirable for South Africa to have a public broadcaster? If we say ‘yes’, then we have to find a way of funding that public broadcaster. Now, it may cost us a lot of money, but if we say it is desirable, then we must find the ways of doing it”, said Jordan.
The commission also signalled that the controversial media appeals tribunal proposed at the party’s 2007 Polokwane conference was off the table for now as the ANC was “very satisfied” with progress made on print media regulation by the Press Freedom Commission (PFC), which was established by Print Media SA and the SA National Editors’ Forum to review the current system of self-regulation.
Jessie Duarte, chairwoman of the ANC national executive committee's communications committee, said the commission's proposals addressed most of the concerns that had prompted the proposal for a media tribunal. The matter would undergo further discussion in Parliament in August.
Delegates also recommended that the government direct more of its estimated R1bn annual advertising spend to small community newspapers. Duarte said this would “encourage the creation of a broader media space – a broader space for freedom of speech and community communication”.
Fellow communications committee member and ANC national spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, said it was a “simple economic equation” that if government pooled its advertising spending, it was more likely to get value for money.
But Jordan was quick to point out that the ANC was not suggesting – as GCIS CEO and government spokesman Jimmy Manyi controversially threatened last year – that the government intended using this spending to reward or punish media outlets depending on whether or not they toed the government line.
“We are not suggesting to use government ad spend as some sort of pressure point”, he said, adding that “we know the private sector does do that.”