Criticism is growing over the unilateral “hijacking” of the SABC by the minister of communications, Faith Muthambi, who in a secretive change through a SABC Memorandum of Incorporation, has apparently stripped the SABC board of its powers, reducing the SABC board’s autonomy and reducing the board to a rubber stamp.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that this ‘hostile takeover’ poses the gravest threat to SABC independence since 1994,”
says Gavin Davis, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) shadow minister of communication and member of parliament in a statement.
“The Memorandum gives minister Faith Muthambi and the SABC’s chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng overall control of the SABC,” says Gavin Davis – a clear violation of section 13 of the Broadcasting Act which gives the SABC board the authority to “control the affairs of the corporation”.
Gavin Davis warns that “if allowed to stand, this memorandum will turn the SABC from a public broadcaster into a state broadcaster”.
The Memorandum of Incorporation signed by Faith Muthambi in September 2014, forces the SABC board to seek the approval of the minister of communications on any rule changes to the governance of the SABC.
No such rule existed in the SABC Articles of Association signed in 2011.
The far reaching implications of the Memorandum of Incorporation is that the requirement to advertise for the vacant positions of high-ranking jobs like SABC CEO, COO and chief financial officer (CFO) is gone.
The Democratic Alliance says it creates “a flawed appointment process to be carried out for the vacant post of SABC CEO, paving the way for Hlaudi Motsoeneng to be appointed”.
The change also gives Faith Muthambi “absolute authority” to decide whether the SABC CEO, COO and CFO should be re-appointed, as well as the conditions of the person’s re-appointment.
Previously the SABC board controlled the re-appointment process.
“This means that the minister now has the power to unilaterally re-appoint Hlaudi Motsoeneng when his contract expires”.
The same goes for suspensions. The SABC CEO, COO and CFO can now only be suspeneded or disciplined “with approval from the minister”.
“This gives Faith Muthambi the power to block any move by the SABC board to discipline Hlaudi Motsoeneng, as directed by the Public Protector in February 2014,” says Gavin Davis.
The new Memorandum of Incorporation now also allows the minister of communications to unilaterally make the SABC’s COO the acting CEO, by stating that “in the event of the CEO position being vacat for whatever reason, the COO shall act in that position upon approval of the minister”.
“This means that Faith Muthambi now has the power to make Hlaudi Motsoeneng the acting SABC CEO,” says the DA’s Gavin Davis.
Furthermore Faith Muthambi now has the sole authority to “extend an acting CEO, COO and CFO’s contract beyond an initial three month contract”, giving her the power to unilaterally keep Hlaudi Motsoeneng on as acting SABC CEO for the forseeable future.
Faith Muthambi now also has the power to recommend the removal of a SABC board member. Previously this power was exercised by the SABC board.
According to the Broadcasting Act only parliament and the SABC board have the power to recommend the removal of a SABC board member.
Shockingly, the Memorandum of Incorporation has now introduced a new clause – section 20.2.4 – making the SABC liable to pay the legal fees of directors “to defend litigation in any proceedings arising out of the director’s services to the corporation”.
“This is clearly to ensure that Hlaudi Motsoeneng is afforded an endless supply of public money to fund the court case over his appointment as SABC COO,” says the DA’s Gavin Davis in the statement.
“In short the Memorandum of Incorporation removes the power of the SABC board to run the SABC, and puts in place a set of rules to ensure the protection and promotion of Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
“The implications of this Memorandum of Incorporation are profound for the independence of our public broadcaster,” says Gavin Davis.
“The SABC board cannot sit back and allow the minister and Hlaudi Motsoeneng to usurp their powers.”
“Civil society organisations and parties from across the spectrum need to work together to fight this hostile takeover that will destroy independent public broadcasting in our country,” says Gavin Davis.