South Africa’s communication minister will no longer have the right to hire and fire the SABC’s top management, the High Court in Pretoria has ruled.
Judge Elias Matojane granted an order declaring that only the non-executive members of the public broadcaster’s board could appoint the top executive members and that the communication minister’s approval would no longer be required.
He found that the powers granted to the minister to appoint, re-appoint and discipline executive directors undermined the SABC’s independence, which was required by the right to freedom of expression.
These powers were inconsistent with the specific independence and pluralism required of a public service broadcaster, he said.
Judge Matojane said the ability of the SABC to reach a vast number of people rendered it a powerful tool that could potentially impact on the quality of democracy if it was not independent and pluralistic, because the majority of South Africans received their news and information primarily through the SABC’s radio and television broadcasts.
He stressed that an independent broadcaster was not only crucial for the right of freedom of expression and access to information, but was also vital to the citizens’ right to vote and the right to free and fair elections.
He ordered that the post of executive director should be advertised and that a transparent process of interviews should be followed before the post was filled on a permanent basis.
The judge declared sections of the SABC’s amended Memorandum of Incorporation and SABC Board Charter, which gave wide-ranging powers to the minister to interfere in how the SABC was run, were invalid and inconsistent with the Broadcasting Act.
He suspended the invalidity for a year for the defects to be remedied, but ordered that in the meantime only the board had the power to institute disciplinary proceedings against and suspend top executive members.
In addition, the judge declared that members of the SABC board could not be removed except in compliance with the Broadcasting Act. – firstname.lastname@example.org