SABC funding takes centre stage as broadcaster presents annual report

23 February 2021 - 15:31 By aphiwe deklerk
The SABC is grappling with restructuring to contain costs. File photo.
The SABC is grappling with restructuring to contain costs. File photo.
Image: Tyrone Arthur

Funding the SABC became a hot topic in parliament again when the public broadcaster presented its annual report on Tuesday.

This coincided with the SABC grappling with a restructuring process that will see hundreds of employees lose their jobs due to its financial constraints.

In a presentation to the communications portfolio committee, the SABC showed it was making progress in dealing with irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

However, it was the remarks from deputy communications minister Pinky Kekana that caught the ears of the committee. She said her department had approached President Cyril Ramaphosa to assist with the funding structure of the SABC.

“There has been an engagement with the president to say, having looked at the challenges the public is confronted with, we need experts to start to engage the public.

“The president is going to look at that, to see if can he put together a team who can start to engage publicly on how we should take [forward] the funding model for the SABC so we don’t come from time to time to ask for money,” said Kekana.

She was explaining plans and alternatives under discussion to ensure the public broadcaster was in a better financial standing. They included:

  • the freezing of annual increases for SABC staff for the next three years, which would save R312m;
  • leave reduction, which would save another R13.7m; and
  • the discontinuation of the leave encashment practice, a move which would save R21.8m.

Kekana said the SABC was awaiting feedback from unions on the proposals.

“We are trying as far as possible, from the department’s side, to look at what can be quick wins for the SABC. Some things have legal implications, some are not within the purview of the department, especially when we look at a household levy,” said Kekana.

She said the department was still looking at obligating companies like MultiChoice, which had a number of subscribers through DStv, to collect licence fees on behalf of the SABC. The plan would include companies like Netflix.

Kekana further warned that should the unions at the SABC not accept one of four options on the table, there was a risk the public broadcaster may go back to retrenching the 600 employees it had originally planned to cut.

With the proposals on the table, that number may be halved, following negotiations with unions and the communications department.

Cope MP Willie Madisha called on the committee to intervene in the matter to come up with a strategy to deal with the unfunded mandate of the SABC and other problems facing the public broadcaster.

Committee chairperson Boyce Maneli called for more funding for the SABC to ensure it remained a public broadcaster.

“When we took up a debate last year it was a serious commitment we made to South Africans that must look at the funding of the SABC,” said Maneli.

He supported the call for the appointment of experts to help craft a plan for the SABC.