Proposed bill demonstrates a missed opportunity and should be paused

In July, the Public Media Alliance (PMA) was invited to respond to the South African government’s consultation on the proposed South African Broadcasting Corporation Soc Ltd Bill, 2021.

Among its ambitions, the wide-ranging bill looks to “repeal the Broadcasting Act, 1999 (Act No. 4 of 1999); to regulate the continued existence of the South African Broadcasting Corporation SOC Ltd; and provide for its governance and staff.”

It is PMA’s understanding that the bill aims to enhance governance structures and finances of the SABC, which after a long period of chronic mismanagement, looks to have finally begun a solid recovery.

However, PMA believes that the draft bill indicates a missed opportunity for South Africa. If this bill had been drafted in parallel with the White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services Policy Framework, it would have offered a very real opportunity to provide a regulatory framework to develop, support and sustain the SABC as a contemporary national multi-platform public media organisation that was not only fit for the digital future, but able to fulfil its essential democratic role in holding power to account, and countering mis- and disinformation.

In PMA’s view, the critical factors challenging SABC at present are its financial sustainability and its independence. Neither are properly, nor effectively, addressed by this draft bill.

In summary, PMA’s submission concludes:

  • The opportunity should be welcomed to review the legislation around SABC but this should only be in parallel with the White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services in South Africa, to ensure that the country has a national public media organisation fit for a digital future.
  • In order to rebuild public trust, the independence of the SABC must be clearly enshrined in any legislation around its governance.
  • The future for any national public media organisation rests on strong and stable funding. The opportunity to review audio and audiovisual content services in South Africa must include the consideration of a contemporary funding mechanism for SABC such as a household levy, potentially supported by an innovative tax on other digital and commercial media, such as that proposed for RTVE in Spain.

It is our considered view that this bill should be paused pending the finalisation of the more forward-looking White Paper on Audio and Audiovisual Content Services Policy Framework, which should then inform future legislation on broadcasting in South Africa.

Follow the link below to read PMA’s submission in full.

Header Image: South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC) Television Park in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. Credit: THEGIFT777/iStock