Programme Director and Acting Director General of the Department of Communications,
Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Communications,
Chairperson of the Select Committee on Public Enterprises,
Deputy Minister of Communications, Mme Pinky Kekana,
Chairpersons, Board members and CEOs of State Owned Entities, in particular, our public broadcaster, the SABC,
Our International guests! In Venda we say that mueni a songo hwalaho, zwa maramani u nazwo which is simply translated as a visitor may not be carrying anything materialistic, but he has information to share. Therefore, your presence at this colloquium will indeed enrich our conversations, giving them an international perspective.
Senior Government Officials from various government departments,
Members of the media, here present
Ladies and gentlemen
Good Morning! Ndi matsheloni! Thobela!,! Lochani! Goeie more!, Molweni, Sanibonani!
Allow me to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your presence this morning. Your conspicuous presence and the diverse representation of various sectors and organizations at this colloquium underline the significance of public broadcasting, not only as a tier of broadcasting, but to all of us. The degree to which the SABC touches all of us was evident last month when there was a blackout of the PSL matches on public broadcaster radio platforms. Irrespective of the nature of the disagreement between the SABC and the PSL, a solution had to be found because the pressure was unbearable even from our own family members. Therefore, beyond the organizations or tier of broadcasting we represent, we have a soft spot for the SABC as a public broadcaster. We cannot be happy if the SABC is not well. The SABC, ladies and gentlemen is the pulse of our nation – the window through which our culture and heritage are seen, particularly as we begin our heritage month-September. If that window is misty or smoky we cannot see outside. Neither can the world outside see inside South Africa.
As far as 1992, As the Secretary General of the ANC, in A speech delivered to the launch of the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting 14 November, the younger Cyril Ramaphosa wrote: “The ANC is committed to public broadcasting which is independent of the government of the day, and which owes its loyalty not to any party, but to the population as a whole. We propose, in other words, a broadcast service committed to providing full and accurate information to all South Africans, and which is protected from interference by any special interests- whether they be political, economic or cultural”. This is the foundation on which a true public broadcaster should be established.
It is imperative to put on record that the last time we had this focused discussion on public broadcasting was during the transition as part of removing it from the control of the repressive National Party government reposition it for a new democratic dispensation, particularly in anxious anticipation of the watershed 1994 general elections which required a fearless public broadcaster who could provide news to all the South Africans in a manner that is credible, impartial, balanced and non-partisan as envisioned in the Broadcasting White Paper of 1999 and the subsequent Broadcasting Act. It has been over 24 years since, and as South Africa’s democracy gets consolidated, the key question is what type of a public broadcaster do we want? This is important in view of the need of a bigger project of Nation building and social cohesion concomitant with the 2030 vision espoused of the National Development Plan (NDP).
Ladies and gentlemen!
Three months ago we announced the process towards the comprehensive review broadcasting policy as part of repositioning our industry not only for technological development and the rigors of the 4th Industrial revolution, but furthermore, to attract investment. We made it clear that a separate process will be undertaken to allow South Africans to have a focused conversation on the SABC as a public broadcaster. In July the department released a gazette requesting South Africans to submit their views on a number of issues, in particular the mandate of the public broadcaster and the funding thereof, the governance model and measures of accountability.
The submission closed on the 31st of August 2018. I have been informed by the Department that a sizeable number of submissions have been received, thus confirming the interest in the SABC as a public broadcaster. We wish to thank all South Africans as individuals, organizations and companies who made valuable inputs to this process. In the next comings weeks we will analyze these submissions to see how they can inform the reshaping of the public broadcasting in South Africa. This colloquium is part of this public consultation on public broadcasting so that the task of building a true public broadcaster cannot be left to government alone, but as an inclusive one, requiring all of us. Both inputs from the gazette and the colloquium will be incorporated, and inform the broader policy review process.
The theme of the colloquium is building a resilient public broadcaster. This theme is deliberate, cognizant of the changing environment, which is continuously disrupted by what many analysists refer to as VUCA era – a period of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and anxiety. The world of 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) is here with us, disrupting and blurring traditional broadcasting value chains. This disrupted world requires a public broadcaster that is not only institutionally strong, but equally adaptive, agile and responsive to the growing, unpredictable and diverse demands of the public.
In my recent engagements with the students of the University of Limpopo (on Friday 31 August 2018), who we have in our mist today, asked me a thought-provoking policy question: why do we in a multilingual South Africa continue to have radio stations that continue to broadcast on exclusive linguistic basis? This question is critical because:
Firstly, it is asked by the youthful sectors of our society who are the future consumers of the public broadcasting services, thus presumably explaining the underlying reasons of the youth shunning the public broadcaster.
Secondly, the gradual death of lexicographic capacity in many of our South African languages, resulting in English gradually dominating some of the African Languages (ALS) stations and inevitably diluting their originality. This is a critical question that I hope the colloquium will reflect on it. In other words, redefining multilingualism in a rapidly integrated South Africa where the youths do want to be defined within strict ethnic linguistic laagers, but a fluid beings who crisscross languages. Many of you may recall Robert McKinsey’s 1995 Report which recommended the amalgamation and resizing of the African languages at the SABC. The recommendation could not get traction at that time, but does it mean it has to be revisited in the changing South African demographics profiles. I heard that the Department of Arts and Culture and the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) have been invited to this colloquium. I hope they will be able to provide guidance on how to make our languages relevant to these new world, and promote their usage by the youth lest we keep them for sentimental purpose. As noted in many researches, the use of our African languages is on a decline.
The Context of the Colloquium: Emerging issues
Ladies and gentlemen!
Colleagues, public broadcasting has dominated the media debates in the last two decades even in those countries where the (public broadcasting) historically mattered less. From Australia and Denmark to the United Kingdom and United States, public broadcasting is beyond the rapid industry changes, have to justify its own existence. The escalating operational costs (energy, signal and distribution, content acquisition and personnel), audience fragmentations due to the multichannel environment and the proliferation of Over The Top (OTT) and interactive and instantaneous video on demand services, declining public funds and frequent budget cuts, global economic downturns impacting advertising revenues and migration from analogue to digital require hard choices on how we sustain public broadcasting services. This is no longer a time of plenty. Efficiency has become an operative word and therefore non-negotiable.
I have been reliably informed that European countries have introduced since 2001 a new directive for funding of public service broadcasting and state aid rules and amended in 2011. This the directive provides strict conditions on state aid for funding public service broadcasting.
Equally the debates in the Australia and the US in particular have shown that even in highly developed economies, public broadcasters are not safe, with all the budget cuts.
Therefore our situation is not oddly unique.
This colloquium comes as South Africa emerges from a month of women - August. September is a heritage month and it is all of us’ expectation that the SABC as a public broadcaster showcases the diversity of our heritage. However, as reported earlier this week, the SABC is not in a healthy financial position owing to assortment of challenges that besieged it in the last few years. Admittedly, some of the challenges, are man-made and therefore, could have been avoided. However, the majority of the challenge besieging the public broadcaster are historical and structural. Instead of dealing with them, they have been continuously deferred. The Broadcasting Act was amended in 2002. The Electronic Communications Act further amending the Broadcasting was enacted in 2005. However, none of these amendments dealt with the structural issues besieging the public broadcasting:
These issues include:
The public and commercial arrangement within the SABC and the continued rationale for it,
The universal mandate of the public broadcaster and the relationship with Sentech as a signal distributor, given the high signal distribution and linking costs – the 2nd biggest cost driver of the SABC costs behind the compensation of employees,
The sustainability of license fees as a revenue stream given the high costs of collection
In addition to the above, we still have the hanging policy that emerged from transition, in particular:
the appointment of the SABC Board through a Parliamentary process and the noting the events of the last 10 years,
the unresolved future of Channel Africa
These issues cannot be dealt with in a piecemeal as we submitted previously, but require a comprehensive approach instead so that we can build an agile and resilient public broadcaster that is at the heart of South Africa’s nation building project. This colloquium is intended to achieve that objective.
Addressing Public expectations
There may be a few of us in this room, but we carry the hopes and aspirations of millions of South Africans in the deep rural and mountainous villages of Mafefe (Limpopo), Idutywa and Lusikisiki (Eastern Cape), who solely rely on public broadcasting for information, education and entertainment. For them, quality broadcasting, content diversity and multichannel environment, whether on TV or radio can only be realized through the public broadcaster. Therefore, as we engage at this colloquium, we should think about those people because they depend on us.
We need to respond to an old man in Welkom in Lejeleputswa District Municipality - Free State who want to see Golf back on the SABC and Gospel programmes. People in Mdantsane ask us when the Sunday afternoon boxing will return to the SABC. We need to think about a man in a small village in the Northern Cape who in 2010, had to on daily basis cross the border into Tshabong - Botswana to watch the World Cup hosted in South Africa his country, because SABC 1 and 3 on which this event was carried were not available in his area.
These are the stark realities that our people face every day to access public broadcasting. The growing gap between the urban rich and rural poor is rapidly growing and it cannot be addressed through pay-tv, we need to reduce the basic right of access to information to economics. In a developing country like ours, this is not sustainable.
In conclusion, Programme director, the pressures that was exerted by the SABC’s inability to broadcast PSL matches earlier in August points out that even in a multichannel environment, not only in developing countries, the role of the public broadcaster cannot be underestimated. The President of the Republic, His Excellency, Cyril Ramaphosa often requests us to take a deep dive and be brutally honest. But that dive should not be a scuba - dive such that we cannot come out. I impress on this colloquium to do the same because the issues confronting the public broadcaster require a thorough and robust reflection. I wish you well in this exercise and looking forward to a report from this colloquium.
Enkosi! Ke a leboga! Baie Dankie!