The SABC must be allowed to proceed with its turnaround strategy, says IPO

Last week the SABC Board and exco came under sustained criticism by the Parliamentary Portfolio committee for the SABC’s plans regarding retrenchments.

The SABC must, of course, look at all avenues to increase revenues while reducing costs, and retrenchments should always be a last resort. In fact, it has done much work in this area, clamping down on corruption, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, disposing of non-core assets, increasing revenue from licensing its content and other pragmatic interventions.

In addition, all quality Public Broadcasters around the world are subsidized so they can deliver the service to those sections of the population that are underserved. The increasing loss of advertising revenue for all broadcasters requires that the SABC receives public funding to continue to meet its public service mandate. Government subsidies must, however, be clearly ring-fenced for independent productions that meet that mandate. In the context of Covid 19, the role of a public service broadcaster is more important than ever. “But the fact remains that the cost structure at the SABC is unsustainable,” says Rehad Desai, an award-winning documentary filmmaker. “Considering the limited amount of programming the SABC produces, it has a bloated workforce by international standards”.

However, instead of supporting these painful but necessary steps, the Portfolio Committee has severely criticised them. The IPO therefore feels the need to re-iterate its support for the SABC’s independence. “Too often the public broadcaster has been forced to toe the party line. Instead, it must be vigorously protected from political interference,” says Thandi Davis, deputy chair of the Independent Producers Organisation.

The Committee must be careful not to overstep its legitimate oversight role: to ensure that the SABC meets its mandate and remains free of corruption. Having failed – abysmally – in both those regards during Hlaudi’s reign of terror, the Committee now effectively seeks to entrench that disastrous legacy through confusing its oversight role with a supra- management one. In fact, the turnaround plans are not just a question of pragmatism on the part of the SABC, but of an unmet bailout obligation imposed by Treasury.

The reduction in the wage bill is critical because its growth has forced the SABC to slash total content budgets by hundreds of millions of Rands over the last couple of years. In addition, the SABC is shortchanging freelancers. It has not appreciably increased the rates it pays to them for over 12 years – in other words, it has effectively slashed them by nearly 50%. At the same time, SABC employees have consistently enjoyed above CPI salary increases. This has led to an untenable situation where salaries are R2,8bn annually while content local content spend is R1bn. In other words, local content accounts for an alarmingly low 15c of every rand spent. Salaries, on the other hand, account for an unsustainable 41 cents. This almost 3:1 ratio should be reversed.

“The Portfolio Committee expresses concern for jobs inside the SABC. But what about the bloodbath of job losses outside it? What about the hundreds, if not thousands of actors, camera operators, editor, writers, directors and so many others who have lost work?” asks Katleho Ramaphakela, a local producer. “What about the production companies, particularly emerging black producers?”

Nimrod Geva, co-chair of the IPO adds that “The Committee can be sure that the SABC’s competitors are certainly not making the same mistake in short-changing content – as their climbing ratings and audience share clearly show. In fact, if the broadcaster is not allowed to fix itself now, in a few years there may be very few SABC jobs left to save.”


About the IPO:

The Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) is a representative, national organisation of independent South African film, television and video producers constituted to represent, protect and promote the interests and needs of producers. The IPO currently represents the interests of eighty percent of working producers in South Africa.

The IPO strives towards creating transformed film and television industries in South Africa and works towards the development of a sustainable, stable environment for producers.