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More charges as Hlaudi's press conference backfires

Politics
Johannesburg - Suspended SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng faces being “summarily dismissed” for allegedly violating the broadcaster’s code of conduct following his tirade against its interim board.

The Sunday Independent understands that Motsoeneng has been served with fresh disciplinary charges for his statements on Tuesday attacking the interim board and Parliament’s ad hoc committee, which looked into the corporation’s affairs.

The charges were delivered to Motsoeneng’s lawyer, Zola Majavu, on Friday after officials could not find him at his Joburg home. A source said yesterday Motsoeneng was ill in hospital.

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Fomer SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng addressing the media on Wednesday about a range of issues, including the 90% local music content rule that he implemented last year. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

“Motsoeneng has been served with charges, and will face a disciplinary hearing for negative publicity. He can be summarily dismissed. The letter has already gone to him,” said a source familiar with the case.

Motsoeneng and Majavu could not be reached for comment on Saturday. 

On Tuesday during a media briefing, the former chief operating officer tore into the interim board chaired by businesswoman Khanyisile Kweyama, saying it was conflicted and lacked integrity.

He also used that platform to boast about his achievements, including that he had turned the SABC’s financial fortunes around and for introducing the controversial 90 and 80% local content quota system on radio and TV music programmes respectively. But highly placed sources told The Sunday Independent that the quota system had resulted in catastrophic consequences as it had, along with staff salaries, contributed to the SABC’s finances declining from R600million to R200m in the last two years.

“The advertisers just left. Radio alone declined R29m in ad revenue, while TV, which is 80% local content, declined by R183m in revenue that should be coming in the period since the inception of the local content quota decision.

“The total cost is over R200m. Of the SABC’s commercial radio stations, Metro FM was the hardest hit, followed by the likes of 5FM, Lotus FM and Good Hope FM. Metro FM declined more. They have lost R100m. If you listen to rival stations on Sundays, especially 702, they have taken Metro FM listeners because they play some of the songs that used to be on Metro FM to woo listeners.”

Such is the gravity of the problem that the SABC has already begun reviewing the quota system with the possibility of doing away with it.

“You can’t just turn Metro FM into Ukhozi FM. The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) rule says 60%. Why don’t you stick to that? This quota system is so detrimental, and it was implemented at a time when there was a general decline of revenue within the media industry.

“So it exacerbated the problem. It has become clearer that this issue of local content threatens the existence of the SABC,” said the source.

“There has to be a review but this was not even a decision of the interim board. Management were also discussing how to review and revert to the initial system even before the interim board arrived. We need to stick to Icasa rules of 60/40 (for radio).”

The Sunday Independent understands that management had planned to phase out the quota system as early as May 1, but this might be delayed.

So detrimental has the quota system been that it will take a long time before the SABC recoups its losses. “Even when you reverse, you are not reversing impact. Only when audiences come back can you recoup. To reverse, it will take long.”

A reckless employment system that has seen freelancers employed full-time without due regard for the SABC’s financial status has also contributed to the financial losses, according to sources.

Motsoeneng’s misery could worsen as the interim board is deliberating former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s damning When governance and ethics fail report, and the SABC’s decision to take it on review. The report had found that Motsoeneng’s appointment was irregular as he had lied about his qualifications, purged staff members who opposed him at the corporation, and received three appraisals which increased his salary from R1.5m to R2.4m in a year.

The interim board is also considering the controversial R570m MultiChoice deal, signed by Motsoeneng in 2013. In terms of the deal, the SABC supplies MultiChoice’s DStv platform with a 24-hour news channel, an entertainment channel, Encore, and access to the public broadcaster’s archives.

The contract was already at risk of being cancelled after a parliamentary inquiry recommended the interim board should launch an independent investigation into the deal. Former board member Krish Naidoo, who is part of the interim board, had advised the board it was illegal.

The interim board said in a statement yesterday that it would implement the findings of the public protector and also those of the parliamentary ad hoc committee, which former communications minister Faith Muthambi had vowed to take to court on review.

President Jacob Zuma shifted Muthambi in last month’s cabinet bloodbath, and it’s not clear if she will pursue the matter. This leaves Motsoeneng on his own, sources said.

And although Motsoeneng boasted about turning the fortunes of the SABC at every opportunity he gets, the numbers tell a different story of a company bleeding to death in the face of poor leadership and financial management.

Said a source who would know: “Payment to staff ballooned from R4m in 2015/16 to R60m in 2016/17. How do you move from R4m to R60m in one financial year? The cost of staff salaries ballooned R29m last year alone in these tough condition for media markets. It shows you are increasing costs. You can’t be moving against gravity. It’s madness.”

Added the source: “All the freelancers are now permanent, which means more salary cost, in addition to medical aid benefits and other cost-to-company expenses. We are not saying that freelancers must not be permanent, but you need to phase it in in a way that is sustainable.

“This is an organisation that used to get R600m but is now getting R200m. In essence, where you are supposed to be going up (revenue collection), you are going down, and where you are supposed to be going down, you are going up. This just tells you how big the problem is.”

The new board has instructed management to proceed with the advertisement of the positions of group chief executive, chief operating officer, group executive for radio and chief financial officer, among others.

The Sunday Independent understands the interim board is already negotiating with National Treasury for a bailout of more than R1bn to rescue the SABC as part of the recovery plans. They would be approaching Treasury in the next few days, a source revealed.

But the board was wary of the current management at the broadcaster as they were seen to be too close to Motsoeneng.

“The dilemma is, does the interim board get rid of these guys or keep them before they get some new people? The issue is that people that were working with him (Motsoeneng) are still the same people. That’s the difficulty,” said a source.

On the editorial policy, which saw the SABC last year banning the screening of images of protesters burning public property, sources said it had already reverted to the 2004 policy, as per the Icasa ruling.

The Sunday Independent

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