Parliament’s portfolio committee on communications & digital technologies has extended the deadline for written comment on the contentious SABC draft bill until 16 January.
But nothing much about the bill is new. When it was introduced in parliament on 2 October, it drew howls of condemnation from industry experts, who said it is merely a rehash of existing broadcasting legislation that achieves little to help the ailing public broadcaster.
Despite the funding crisis, the bill continues to propose that the SABC should be funded from advertising, subscriptions, sponsorships, licence fees, government grants, donations or “any other amounts to which the corporation may become entitled” – all solutions which have failed to turn around the broadcaster in the past.
Head of the Gibs Media Leadership Think Tank and former SABC board member Michael Markovitz described the bill as “very disappointing”. There is no policy change here – and up until now this has not helped to make the public broadcaster solvent.
There are three fundamental flaws with the bill, he said. The first is that it is being tabled in a policy vacuum. “It is simply unworkable to table a bill dealing with the SABC before the general industry policy on audio and audio-visual content services has been finalised.
“Secondly, the finalisation of the SABC’s funding model has not been treated with any urgency in the bill. Given the SABC’s perilous financial situation, government’s decision to allow the minister to take three years to determine a funding framework beggars belief.
“Many interested parties have made submissions to government on a proposed new funding model itself, including scrapping the existing TV licence fee and legislating new collection measures for a public media levy. None of these submissions has been taken into account. Government has just kicked for touch,” Markovitz said.
He said the third fundamental flaw is the proposal to establish a commercial board (in addition to the main board). “If government wants more time to finalise a funding model, why is it recommending a restructuring of SABC’s commercial services under a commercial board before a funding model had been decided?” he asked.
Officially, the bill aims to “regulate the continued existence of the SABC to provide public broadcasting services that contribute to democracy, development of society, gender equality, nation building, the provision of education and to strengthen the spiritual and moral fibre of society”.
It means to “safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of South Africa and ensure plurality of news, views and information”, among other things. – © 2023 NewsCentral Media