Johannesburg - Pressure is mounting on Parliament to reconvene its communications portfolio committee to deal with the crises at the SABC threatening the coverage of crucial municipal elections on August 3.
Parliament is currently on recess for the elections expected to get under way in three weeks. But that has not deterred the justice and peace commission of the SA Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC).
On Wednesday, the group called on the legislative arm of government to reconvene urgently and address the crises dogging the public broadcaster. The SACBC seemed emboldened by ANC’s called in its lawmakers in the National Assembly to give the SABC “the requisite attention”.
This, despite the fact that earlier this month, the ANC turned down a request by the DA to summon the SABC board, chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to Parliament to account for the mess at the broadcaster.
House chairman Cedrick Frolick reportedly said such a meeting could only take place after the local government elections.
Bishop Abel Gabuza, chairman of the SACBC’s commission, said people would not trust the outcome of the elections if the dispute regarding fair coverage and censorship by the SABC was not resolved.
Parliament, he said, had the authority to demand accountability from Muthambi and the SABC board on matters relating to the broadcaster’s adherence to its own charter and the Broadcasting Act.
“As the forthcoming elections are heavily contested, it is in the interests of the common good, and a matter of urgency, that public confidence in the public broadcaster be restored,” said Gabuza.
Through the SABC’s unlawfully revised editorial codes and subsequent crisis, “an impression has been created that the SABC is failing to report fully and objectively on events that have the capacity to diminish the holding of free and fair elections”.
This was a serious matter that “requires urgent intervention by the National Assembly. We urge the portfolio committee on communications to demonstrate its oversight leadership”, pleaded Gabuza.
Parliamentary portfolio communications committee chairman, Humphrey Maxegwana, stated matter-of-factly that the committee would only reconvene after the elections. “That position was made clear by the House chairman when a request to reconvene was first made, and we agree with it,” he told Independent Media.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said if the ruling party was serious about solving the SABC crises, where senior journalists have been suspended for opposing censorship, “they will urgently recall the portfolio committee”.
It was not enough for the ANC to simply distance itself from Motsoeneng’s leadership of the broadcaster.
The ANC on Tuesday seemed to be turning the screws on the SABC board, which has been accused of delinquency, after Motsoeneng publicly defied Icasa’s ruling that the broadcaster lift its ban on broadcasting of violent protests.
The Independent Communications Authority of SA ordered that the ruling be complied with, in writing, within seven calendar days from Monday. Motsoeneng said the ruling would be reviewed, and if need be challenged at the Constitutional Court.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has warned the broadcaster against challenging the binding rulings of Chapter 9 institutions.
He’s said the broadcaster’s “high turnover” of its CEOs was among issues to be addressed, as reports emerged on Tuesday that suspended chief executive Frans Matlala had reached an R18 million settlement with the SABC.
The administrator was suspended in November last year, a mere four months into his lucrative five-year contract.
DA spokeswoman and shadow minister of communications, Phumzile van Damme, said they wanted Muthambi to confirm whether Matlala’s golden handshake was funded for taxpayers.
“If it is true that a settlement has been reached, it is clear that the SABC board did not have good enough reason to suspend Matlala. This is further evidenced by the absence of any explanation by Minister Muthambi as to why Matlala was suspended in the first place,” she said.@luyolomkentane