In the aftermath of a pronouncement that the SABC will no longer show violent and property destruction protests, and on-going protests, opinion pieces and news coverage on the SABC we have consistently heard the central theme for displeasure as articulated is ‘censorship”.
The subject of censorship is shared with absolute certainty no different to what we were treated not so long ago in our public discourse on claims of state capture.
It is perhaps time we ask some questions in understanding what is known, what is being said, who says it and what is missing in our current SABC talk.
What is known?
- As “censorship” is confirmed to be the epicentre of this storm, it appears personified as further as anchored in one individual the SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
- Let us therefore start with Motsoeneng. The controversial personality of the SABC has at least two findings against him. The most pronounced one is that of the public protector which became the base for a court appeal to give effect to the cited findings of the PP.
- What is important is that, we know by now Motsoeneng’s educational credentials in emptiness of a matric certificate has been proven beyond question. This is a serious subject and therefore the ethical implications for this, his actions warrants all and necessary due sanction. I am in concert with the desire to have to deal with this aspect expeditiously.
What is being said?
- What the buzz and even noise carries is a central message, of a public broadcaster SABC as practicing censorship in denying the general public access to information in particular on protests regardless to how violent and destructive these may portend.
- Those who argue against a decision on the part of the SABC to stop broadcasting violent and infrastructure destruction protests see this as a gross infringement on the constitutional diaphragm of a public broadcaster responsibilities informed by a right to know as guiding principle.
- We hear about a single person (Hlaudi Motsoeneng) who rules and reigns with impunity and disdain at the SABC. An individual who appointed himself and is completely untouchable whose statements as reported from internal sources attests someone above the law. Ne who lacks the capacity to lead his office and the SABC as COO.
- This picture receives further colour scheming when political dotted lines are drawn to the Minister of Communications and indirectly as usual to the President. It is my assumption that the latter aspect clouds issues instead of clearing them up.
- On the other side of the spectrum we hear confusing voices from Communications Workers Union and a cohort of artists as led by Don Laka who have been campaigning for more local content for decades. These celebrate the decision of the SABC to shift to a biased 90-10% of local content. We know this has not been well received in many circles for the economic implications its hold. This group appears to be willing to die for the tyrant, the dictator and for them the hero.
- We hear of how staff members are threatened by a dictator who parades the passages of the SABC offices and considers himself the claimed ‘alpha and omega’ in the SABC. Yes, we hear of a COO who has no regard and rules his kingdom by fear immanent in threats of he knows everything because he has people among the staff who report on them. Certainly this situation is untenable and warrants immediate address, for this is firstly a public broadcaster, and secondly its workers deserve a conducive environment for employment and what we hear is clearly not conducive.
Who said it?
- It becomes important to ask who says what, because what is communicated is not distinct from who says it. We must contextualise the claimed journalists we hear who today speak in silence of crossed taped lips. We must ask who are represented what interest do the defend for it cannot be naively argued that their only and singular interest as that of the public.
- These are journalists from both privately owned media formations and journalists from the SABC as well. We must not prove sophistic to assume we the protestors are a homogenous group devoid of self-interest although communicating in the mouth of a claimed public interest.
- Among those who speak up today and had become for some a victim and hero is the recently resigned acting-CEO Jimi Matthews. Yet Matthews as Vuyo Mvoko in today’s Star front-page protests was part of the butchering of careers at SABC. I would imagine if others who worked with Vuyo Mvoko are asked on Mvoko they will equally be arguing how he ended the careers of others in his own way.
- Staff members of the SABC are claiming victimization and have joined the protest at the SABC. I am citing this to show us the multi-layers of opinions emanating from the same space called the SABC.
- Among the voices that speak out are also former SABC board members. SABC boards throughout at least the democratic era have always struggled to lead the SABC in clarity and business model operational success. One therefore simply do not know what these use as maximum symbol of Board leadership in the SABC history against which the current board can be measured.
- I welcome the ANC policy statement as articulated, it is necessary as the leading party entrusted not to rule but to lead in democracy to engage the SABC in this season.
- I do however think that often the side comments at these press conferences clouds the actual policy subject. I do not think it right for Jackson Mthembu to include “there is no one competent at the SABC to lead”. The questions from this statement are: Is this the ANC policy? How was this conclusion drawn? What process was followed to conclude on this in this fashion? Is this after Jimi Matthews left or should we assume Matthews was the last competent one? I am not sure if this is an off-the-cuff personal remark, like the one where he said he wants to go join the march with the journalists, when he was frankly pushed on why he is not joining the march he appeared in sixes-and-sevens. It is a challenge that the ANC now sees the need to have an urgent meeting with the Minister and her board, yet this nevertheless must be welcomed.
What is missing?
- The definition of censorship in democracy is a very serious aspect, yet censorship as thrown around has not yet been defined, neither engaged or proven. We still awaiting the evidence of this censorship as policy praxis. Censorship is often lumped with press freedom, and often in our SABC- talks press freedom features as tenant of this censorship claim.
- We are not told what the acting CEO’s role was in all of this. We still do not know what he did or did not do for the eighteen months he was paid to be the CEO. In my understanding the COO is answerable to the CEO. We don’t know what the entire executive management was doing, we hear censorship personified in the COO. The ‘apology’ and stated concessions from the departing acting – CEO is nowhere critically scrutinised, rather he is embraced as a victim who suffered at the hand of the easy to believe villain. Did the acting- CEO know prior to him accepting the job what the environment was and why did he accept the job, because by the time he came to be acting, the clouds around the COO were swelling in question of fitness.
- In all of this what is glaringly missing is anybody keeping the Board of the SABC accountable for the state of dysfunction as communicated to the public. The SABC board stands in the same space as SABC boards before, boards who proved susceptible and lacked the ability to lead from the front in keeping management in check. I have elsewhere concluded perhaps the SABC board must shoulder the full and undeniable blame for the state the SABC finds itself in be it in perception or reality. For how does any executive management team have such latitude without the Board being a means of testing the impact of decisions.
- Is there any success at the SABC if the recent financials are considered the yardstick? It seems there is truculence to either engage or acknowledge this on the part of the detractors, because and admitted concession to the good happening at the SABC will be accredited to the COO. We do not hear if the claimed success as business operation is challenged or questioned in veracity if operations mean business decisions to raise revenue, and paying of debt to lead to stability is the measuring tool.
In the end it seems we are lost in facts, fiction and fixation.
Facts because there are grounds for taking the COO to task as the public protector report had clear shown. There is a current ruling against the fitness of the COO and whilst he had appealed, perhaps the SABC board should have had the foresight to suspend the COO until such time as the case is resolved. This issue clouds the success that is indisputable at the SABC. The facts also attests that the SABC is a business success in this era, until the opposite can be proven we have to accept the most recent financial attests sound business strategy and outcomes.
A further fact is the SABC has embarked on a policy decision to have 90% local content, a decision to be celebrated from all corners of the SA public. However we know not everyone is happy with this, and there is an economic interest at play, because markets are beginning to be shifted be it in attempt or real.
The last fact is the SABC has taken a decision not to broadcast violent protests. We do not know if this decision is a policy decision or how it was arrived at.
This decision in an elections season spells more trouble for it will be lumped with claims of unfair treatment of smaller parties. On the other hand the proverbial jury is and remains out of if the SA public wants to be treated to the violence we have seen or not. Yet that is a subject for another day.
Amidst all this there is also some fiction doing the rounds, it becomes difficult to separate the facts from the fiction. Compromised individuals and groups make claims and counter claims, which fuels the notion of fiction. It is claimed the COO makes every decision. Fiction dictates that the SABC board is not present in the SABC decisions. Fiction further dictates that the actions of the COO are unilaterally accepted because he is explicitly carrying a mandate from somewhere in Tuynhuis. Regardless to how romantic and plausible these may sound we must regard it, as fiction for the evidence simply does not exist to corroborate such. Fiction because anything anyone says they heard being said without any testing is treated as the truth because we are less concerned about the facts in a contaminated environment where political agendas drive us.
Fixation, there appears to be an over emphasis on the COO. There is a plausible fixation with the man, the person the COO and thus everything that occurs at the SABC is read through the lens of this fixation. Never before has a COO received such attention, yet some are so fixated by this character that they are not prepared to be objective on anything in and on the SABC. It is my unsolicited view that our discourse loves a victim and villain, our discourse is too often premised on blaming someone for the problem hence we have Messiah complex running our society. Our search for a person to save us is so real that we have to find the villain. Have we not with this fixation of Motsoeneng missed the opportunity to engage in objectivity on what a functional SABC ought to look like. Have we not missed the opportunity to celebrate the hard work of all SABC staff and acknowledged the success despite? Have we not contributed to the State of the SABC perceptive or real when we chose to become fixated with an individual?
The SABC from an outsider’s perspective is not a failure, its not a nosiness failure, its not a production failure. It is attempting to transform the economic pie of production which for the greater part of its existence has been apartheid defined.
It remains my view that the SABC Board must shoulder the full state the public broadcaster finds itself in, good, bad and ugly. Exonerating the board is a grave wrong.
Clyde N. S. Ramalaine