SABC refutes COSATU’s claims that it doesn’t have a strategy

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The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Board has labelled claims by trade union federation COSATU that it does not have a strategy as factually inaccurate. The union called on the Board to step down after the SABC asked Treasury for R1.5 billion in COVID-19 relief.

The public broadcaster plans to retrench about 600 permanent staff and terminate the contracts of over 1 000 freelancers.

COSATU said the new Board has failed to turn the SABC around.

The Board, however, says this is incorrect as it is implementing an approved Turnaround Plan to ensure financial sustainability.

“The Turnaround Plan is a product of a collaborative effort involving the SABC, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), the Government Technical Advisory Centre (GTAC), and the National Treasury. The Plan is structured around enhancing revenue-generation as well as addressing the SABC’s main cost drivers such as employee compensation, content acquisition, signal distribution and digital migration,” the Board said in a statement.

The Board says COSATU is also misleading the public by saying that they have applied for a bailout. They say the application for COVID-19 relief is due to the unforeseen financial impact of the pandemic.

They further say the public broadcaster has expanded its normal programming services, in order to provide the public with credible COVID-19 information in all official languages, without financial compensation.

“In the interest of the country and in fulfillment of its mandate, the SABC expanded its normal programming and services and embarked on a number of activities for business continuity, which included displacing primetime revenue-generating programming across its three free-to-air channels to accommodate all public announcements and media briefings relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as amplifying news, current affairs and educational content. While the SABC has not been compensated for these activities, the organisation remains responsive to calls for it to do more public interest broadcasting,” the statement reads.

The Board says, contrary to what COSATU and the Communications Workers Union (CWU) say, there has been transparency in the utilisation of the bailout the public broadcaster got from Treasury earlier in 2020.

SABC CEO Madoda Mxakwe responds to CWU calls for the dissolution of the SABC Board: 

“No bailout funding has been utilised for anything other than permitted by National Treasury. The bailout utilisation reports submitted to DCDT and National Treasury detail the movement of the received funding. There are also monthly meetings between the SABC, DCDT and National Treasury to monitor the utilisation of the bailout funds. It must be noted that the bailout funds cannot be utilised for salaries, until the COVID-19 relief funding,” the statement further states.

The Board has also labelled as incorrect claims that it has not implemented consequence management and dealt with the past legacy of corruption and financial mismanagement.

Statement by SABC Board on calls by Cosatu that the Board be dissolved: 

Retrenchments

The Board says the Section 189 process is premised on the Turnaround Plan, which is a bailout pre-condition by Treasury and follows the approval of the Target Operating Model.

“The LRA prescribes the Section 189 notice as an invitation to relevant stakeholders to engage in a process which may minimise the impact, explore alternatives, delay the termination date or to avoid terminations completely. This must be issued as soon as the employer contemplates, becomes aware, or knows, of a likelihood of possible redundancies and retrenchments. This is what the Act prescribes. The Corporation is, in good faith, following the prescripts of the Act,” the statement reiterates.

The statement also says that COSATU’s call for the dissolution of the Board is legally baseless.

SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa respond 

The SOS Support Public Broadcasting Coalition and Media Monitoring Africa say they are concerned by COSATU’s call for the dissolution of the SABC Board. COSATU’s Sizwe Pamla stated that the Board should be dissolved because “not only are they destroying workers’ lives, at the same time, we haven’t seen anything that they’re doing to fix the public broadcaster.”

SOS and MMA say the statement by COSATU appears to have no basis with reality.

“SOS and MMA are of the view that the SABC’s Board, management and, particularly, its news coverage, has improved significantly in the past three years and is much more able to tackle the difficult role of providing news and information essential to developing an informed citizenry in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and in the run-up to the 2021 municipal elections, than has been the case since at least 2007. We are extremely disappointed that COSATU has made this call. It is at odds with civil society’s traditional unity on wanting a capable, excellent, independent public broadcaster. In our view, attempts to manufacture a governance crisis, where none exists, through a call for a Board dissolution will not save the SABC and it certainly will not save jobs at the SABC. It might indeed lead to the total collapse of the broadcaster with thousands of resultant job losses,” they said in a statement.

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