Following the announcement from the NBC’s board that austerity measures are underway, which includes a possible retrenchment of some of the public broacaster’s workforce, employees took to staging a demonstration in association with the Namibia Public Workers’ Union (NAPWU) in protest against such plans.  Over 30 employees have signed a petition for the NBC board to revoke the austerity measures and had ‘given management 14 days to respond to their request.’

As such, a letter from NBC Chair Boardperson, Sven Thieme, to the NAPWU Secretary-General, Peter T Nevonga, was sent on 7 October with responses to the union petition. The letter maintains the explanation for why the austerity measures are necessary, as it was ‘aimed at rescuing the NBC from financial and operational demise. It is an open secret that the financial affairs of the NBC have been coming for the past fifteen years if not more.’

‘It is also true that both the Board and Management (past and present) have been sharing and alerting NAPWU and the general workforce about the state of the organisation ever since these challenges started on a continuous basis as part of being transparent and open about the financial affairs of the NBC.’

Funding and own revenue projections have also been provided for the last four financial years. It is acknowledged that the public broadcaster has experienced ‘a drastic cut in subsidy from the Shareholder which has led to the situation that the NBC finds itself in today.’ One effect of this is that, by the end of June 2019, NBC’s debt totalled N$150 million, which has continued to accumulate by N$15 million per month. According to Thieme, however, radio and television production has received ‘good reviews…from our clients and audiences.’

Thieme has directly responded to numerous concerns outlined in the petition, including a vote of no confidence in Management and Board of Directors of NBC; job security; an investigation into mismanagement of funds and unfair labour practices, namely discrimination and regionalism. Regarding the retrenchments, he explains, ‘If it is that the NBC will go that route, this is a process which is law (labour) driven and cannot happen arbitrarily and thus needs and demands that proper consultations be held with all stakeholders within its normal occurrence.’ He warns, however, that if the public broadcaster was to receive a government bailout, the funds may still not necessarily be used to reprieve employees of a retrenchment due to allocating the funds elsewhere.


Ongoing plans

In spite of this, the public broadcaster still has ongoing plans to increase its reach, such as putting more linear TV channels on the NBC Plus app – which has recently reduced its subscription fee – as well as launching its own online news website. These are measures put in place to ensure that the public broadcaster reaches audiences in light of competition from OTT platforms such as Netflix. A spokesperson from NBC said, “Netflix was launched in South Africa in 2016 so we realised that they are going to disrupt the market. So for us to be prepared to offer something close to what they have we started looking in terms of how do actually create an OTT service that we can provide to Namibians and people living outside the country…”

Watch: Over-the-top platforms are eating into the traditional TV business

PMA will continue to provide updates on this story.

Header image: Sunset over Windhoek city panorama with mountains in the background, Windhoek, Namibia. Credit: Vadim_Nefedov/iStock