Withdraw ‘unconstitutional’ SABC Bill, demand media organisations

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Mondli Gungubele. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Mondli Gungubele. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published Jan 24, 2024


Media organisations are up in arms over the SABC Bill, which they say has “a series of catastrophic and unconstitutional flaws”.

Last week, the portfolio committee noted the closing date for written submissions and thanked those who commented on the bill.

The bill was up for public comment until January 16 following the extension deadline from an earlier date of December 15.

The bill has come under criticism, with the DA describing it as retaining the SABC’s 1999 funding model and that the proposed legislation would mandate the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Mondli Gungubele or his finance counterpart with a new funding model, but not the board of directors.

However, Gungubele has defended the bill, arguing that it was geared at addressing the challenges faced by the public broadcaster and ensure its sustainability.

In a joint statement, the SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) expressed deep concerns regarding the bill.

One concern was the move to introduce the bill in Parliament before the finalisation of a much-needed policy update in the form of the draft white paper on audio and audio-visual media services and online content safety.

“The process is all the more alarming considering that the current iteration of the SABC Bill is very different from the draft SABC Bill published for public notice and comment in July 2021. Moreover, the public has been deprived of an opportunity to comment on the new SABC Bill before it was introduced in Parliament.”

The media organisations also said the bill should at a minimum address the public broadcaster’s sustainability challenges with the required urgency.

“The current SABC Bill offers nothing to mitigate or address SABC’s dire financial status. Instead, it provides for the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) to take three years to develop a funding framework. Why wasn’t this done a decade ago?

“Rather than being a solution, this provision sets the SABC up for failure.

“The SABC requires a new funding model that will ensure that the government contributes to the sustainability of the SABC for the benefit of the people of South Africa.”

SOS, MMA and Sanef said they were extremely concerned by the provision that subscriptions were envisaged as additional sources of funding for the SABC.

“A ‘pay-for-content’ model akin to that applicable to commercial subscription broadcasting services cannot be a model of public service content provision as it implies that the provision of services is limited to those able to afford them.”

The organisations also said they were concerned that the bill sought to give new powers to the minister.

“The proposed additional powers of the minister to dictate additional functions to the SABC and to move board members or take part in the board appointment process (particularly that of the subsidiary company) is unconstitutional and makes the institution vulnerable to government and political interference.

“We recommend that the committee requests the DCDT to withdraw the bill and redraft it taking into consideration broad stakeholder input.”

Portfolio committee chairperson Boyce Maneli said the committee secretariat would take stock of all submissions and get a briefing at an appropriate time.

“It will announce the next steps in processing the bill further,” Maneli said.

Cape Times