In South Africa, Media organisations are raising concerns over the SABC Bill, which they say contains several unconstitutional flaws. The bill was up for public comment until January 16, and the portfolio committee noted the closing date for written submissions, thanking those who commented on the bill.
The proposed legislation has come under criticism, with the DA describing it as retaining the SABC’s 1999 funding model and mandating a new funding model for the public broadcaster that excludes the board of directors. However, Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Mondli Gungubele has defended the bill, stating that it aims to address the challenges faced by the public broadcaster and ensure its sustainability.
The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), and the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) have expressed deep concerns about the bill in a joint statement. One concern is the introduction of 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 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 the 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. This provision sets the SABC up for failure, and the SABC requires a new funding model that will ensure the government contributes to its sustainability for the benefit of the people of South Africa.
SOS, MMA, and Sanef, are extremely concerned about the provision that subscriptions are envisaged as additional sources of funding for the SABC. They argue that a ‘pay-for-content’ model that applies 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 are also concerned that the bill seeks 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 is unconstitutional and makes the institution vulnerable to government and political interference. They 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.