Outcomes from PMA’s participation in the South African Public Broadcasting Policy Review Colloquium.

Midrand, S.A. 6-7 September 2018

A strong and sustainable SABC remains critical to building and shaping South Africa as a democratic nation. This was one of the key outputs agreed during a two day colloquium held in Midrand near Johannesburg last week.

The SABC is a long established public broadcaster but it has recently been through what might most kindly be described as ‘dark times’. Severe weaknesses in management and governance led to a damaged reputation and excessive and unaccounted expenditure, all with the inevitable repercussions in terms of public trust and credibility.

There is a unique and specific context to the current situation at SABC but the focus of the policy review, regarding the role and purpose of public media in a democratic society, is of global concern. PMA, CEO, Sally-Ann Wilson recognised the opportunity that the invitation to deliver a keynote provided for PMA. Here was a real chance to emphasise that public media organisations provide far more than entertainment, something we call Entertainment+… and it is that ‘plus’ that all public media needs to market and promote more coherently.

Political will, built on an understanding of the significant role that a national public broadcaster can play in nation building, underpins an effective and sustainable public broadcaster. The fact that the colloquium had been arranged by the Department of Communications and that it was well attended by many of SABC’s key stakeholders – from the Board of Governors to the top management team, regulators, media academics, independent producers and special interest groups – was an excellent starting point for a meaningful outcome. The discussions were passionate and informed throughout the event. The fact that both the Minster of Communication, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane and Deputy Minister of Communications, Ms Pinky Kekana, not only attended but engaged and participated fully in day one, was also a rare but encouraging sign. As was the idea to invite the public, as public involvement will be essential in order for the SABC to rebuild trust and credibility.

The colloquium formed part of a broader review into ‘building a resilient public broadcaster’ currently taking place in South Africa. The deliberations and discussions were trending on Twitter throughout the event, a sure sign that South Africa needs SABC to operate as a multiplatform media organisation albeit built around a solid broadcast core.

Day two of the event focused on the deliberations of four ‘commissions’: Mandate, Size, Scope and Content, Funding and Sustainability, Governance and Accountability & Strengthening Policy, Regulatory Capacity and Oversight. Led by facilitators experienced in the respected issues, engagement was high and deliberations enthusiastic. The PMA CEO was asked to capture the broad outcomes of the event and hand the recommendations to the Deputy Minister. They are noted below.

This review is the first step in a much needed journey for SABC, but the newly appointed management team are already demonstrating their commitment to the task with substantial strengthening of news output, a vital step for any public media organisation. It will take determination, innovation and commitment from everyone involved in and employed by the organisation to ensure SABC’s future as a resilient and sustainable PSM, but at last the possibility of that repurposing of the organisation seems to be in reach.


Following the discussions of the past two days, PMA was able to deliver to the colloquium the following summation of what has been broadly agreed by participants and discussants:

  • A strong and sustainable SABC continues to be critical in building and shaping South Africa as a democratic nation.
  • It is essential that SABC be ‘repurposed’ in order to be able to fulfil its mandate, especially in terms of SABC being able to provide universal access.
  • In the 21stcentury many public broadcasters have become national, multiplatform, public service media organisations known as ‘PSM’s’. SABC has clearly begun that journey and it should increasingly operate and be recognised as a PSM, rather than purely a PSB.
  • SABC is and should operate and be fully recognised as, a public and not a state entity.
  • The political will and impetus for change is essential but the independence of SABC must be understood by the South African Government and implemented in a review of the governance of SABC.
  • SABC must work to rebuild and maintain public trust in SABC (this means each and every employee of the organisation).
  • SABC is fundamentally a creative organisation, it must facilitate innovation and invest in local content for a multiplatform media environment.
  • Funding for SABC should be stable and adequate and collected in a way that is independent of government. A review of whether SABC should itself collect the licence fee should be considered as this may not be the most cost effective or efficient role for a PSM.
  • SABC’s management must ensure that SABC operates in a fully accountable and transparent manner.
  • SABC’s regulation should cover content as well as carriage.
  • SABC should continue on a mixed funding model.
  • There can be no such thing as an ‘unfunded mandate’. There should be a clear framework/one-stop-shop for government departments being able to communicate and relate government priorities to SABC regarding information and content that is necessary for public good/interest.
  • Change is urgently needed, but it should not be reckless and above all, agreed changes should be implemented.

PMA will continue to track and report on the review’s process.

Header Image: SABC Western Cape. Image: Richard Tanswell/Creative Commons