No one needs to teach South Africans about the importance of a free, vibrant and effective press. Every major milestone in our development as a country can be traced back to the ability of our media to report without fear or favour. That’s not to say the press doesn’t have its own transformation issues to deal with.
Since the historic 1994 elections, there have been attempts to transform the SABC into a media house at the centre of our development as a country. And for many years, the efforts did bear some fruit – albeit limited. The understanding was that the corporation service a large segment of our population (and obviously electorate), which places it at the centre of the battle for the control of the hearts and minds of South Africans.
But the disgraceful behaviour of the one remaining board member in parliament last week during the portfolio committee’s probe into the SABC board’s fitness to hold office confirmed the wheel had turned full circle. The SABC has, once again, been turned into the mouthpiece of a certain political faction, whose interests are served by an ineffective public broadcaster.
While the corporation had in the past done its best to sanitise the goings on of a state pursuing an unjust system of government, the modern-day SABC has taken it upon itself to be equally silent on the issues that matter and affect us all.
When former board member Krish Naidoo appeared before the parliament committee, he summed up the reason for his decision to leave the board with one question: “How did so many educated men and women become so beholden to a high school dropout?”
Hlaudi Motsoeneng has become the face of all that is wrong with our public broadcaster. He has become the corporation, the puppet master. Endless stories around his saga have even become the SABC’s biggest headlines. Every questionable major financial dealing has his stamp of approval. And removing him from a position he was found legally unfit to hold seems to have unleashed an even greater beast that now roams the corridors of power at the SABC under the guise of bringing about “true transformation” to the corporation.
The much-lauded 90%-to-10% local-to-international-content rule has become a stick used to whip all who demand accountability at the SABC. The impunity with which parliament was shown the middle finger by the public broadcaster’s delegation – walking out – shows the institution entrusted with objective news and entertainment to the masses has become a law unto itself. There is a name for individuals who believe they’re only accountable to themselves: dictators.
It is also no mere oversight that the state department responsible for the SABC has been silent about that circus. It is the same silence we noticed from the higher education department at the height of the student riots during the #FeesMustFall protests. It was the same kind of silence we saw when the finance minister was under political attack by the SA Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks.
These are silences that speak volumes.