IPO rejects demand for the dissolution of the SABC Board

The Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) rejects, in the strongest possible terms, the call from the Communications Workers Union (CWU) for the SABC Board to be dissolved.

The CWU demand comes in the wake of the SABC Board wanting to proceed with the Section 189 process, now put on hold for a week, which would ultimately see some 230 to 400 SABC employees being retrenched.

“While no-one supports retrenchments, particularly in these punishing economic times,” says Quinton Fredericks, co-Chair of the IPO “the harsh reality is that without undergoing this process and trimming its bloated wage bill, the SABC will face financial ruin, putting thousands more jobs at risk in the organisation and its suppliers”.

“This Board is the first to make any progress in managing the organisation’s cost to income ratio; reducing wasteful and fruitless expenditure, selling off non-essential assets and rooting out corruption. Importantly, it is also the first to act on the very direct instruction from Treasury when it received the bailout to reduce its unacceptably large headcount.”

The SABC spends 41 cents of every rand on salaries, whereas its spend on content – which is its core business – is only 22 cents, with local content only receiving 15 cents of that. As the public broadcaster, it is mandated to prioritise local content. By comparison, M-Net spends 15% on staff and 43% on local content. Further, as a percentage of revenue, eMedia and the BBC spend 11% and 29% respectively on salaries.

Its wage bill has grown beyond all reason as a result of irregular and unjustified appointments, unwarranted bonuses and consistently above inflation increases. Conversely, it has slashed its spend on local content effectively cutting its rates to the production sector and the thousands of freelancers that work in it by an effective and staggering 50% over the last 12 years.

“It is disturbing,” continues Fredericks “that Parliament, the ruling party and unions are up in arms against the SABC Board over a few hundred SABC jobs, yet none of them have taken issue at all with the thousands of workers in the production sector who have lost their jobs, and the many small business production companies which have been forced to close down due to the SABC having reduced its spend on local content and, in the not so distant past, simply not paid producers for work that had been delivered to the broadcaster.”

He adds that the current Board’s turnaround strategy is the first glimmer of hope for a sustainable future for the SABC. The measures in that strategy, including the retrenchments, are inevitable if the organisation is to survive, no matter who sits on its board.

“Dissolving the Board, as the CWU demands, will cost the organisation and the country dearly. Replacing this board with amenable disciples will not only lead to its rapid ruin, it also places the editorial independence of the public broadcaster and, in turn, our democracy under severe threat as we saw under the Hlaudi era”.

“An independent, objective broadcaster is a key pillar of a functioning democracy. We cannot allow this to be undermined by unrealistic populist rhetoric ostensibly aimed at saving a few hundred jobs at the cost of thousands of jobs across the production sector, and of a public broadcaster that is able to deliver effectively on the core requirements of its public service mandate”.

“IPO recognises that the workers who may be retrenched at the SABC have extensive skills sets in the broadcasting, commissioning and production sector,” concludes Fredericks. “These skills should be harnessed in building the capacity of small and medium black owned production houses through agencies such as the MICTSeta and the National Skills Fund to reposition and build the capacity of the independent production sector in South Africa. This with a specific focus on developing our local indigenous film and television sector. “