24 February 1998


Current developments in broadcasting

Incident details

legal action

(FXI/IFEX) - FXI is appalled by reports that there may be attempts in
Parliament to amend the constitution to facilitate the merger of the
Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) and the South African
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (SATRA). This as a naked attempt to
remove the constitutionally protected independence of the IBA (section 192
of which states that `national legislation must establish an independent
authority to regulate broadcasting in the public interest') so that it can
be merged with SATRA which reports to the Minister of Communications.

FXI stated in its submission on the Green Paper on Broadcasting that if the
IBA and SATRA are to be merged, then SATRA should at least be made as
independent as the IBA. This will not require a constitutional amendment,
merely an amendment to the Telecommunications Act, the founding Act of
SATRA. This is without doubt the simpler route to take. More importantly, it
also ensures the independence of both bodies from the government.

According to the Department of Communications, the merger is supposed to be
completed by the end of March 1998. FXI fails to understand why the merger
is being rushed through, particularly in the light of the fact that public
comment has just been completed on the Green Paper on
Broad casting. The Green Paper canvasses all policies in relation to
broadcasting, including whether or not the two bodies should be merged. FXI
fails to understand why public opinion is being canvassed at Green Paper
stage when a decision has already been taken at Cabinet
level to go ahead with the merger. Further, FXI understands that
developments have proceeded to a point where draft legislation merging the
IBA and Telecommunications Acts is being prepared by the Department.

FXI is also deeply disturbed by the implications of proposed amendments to
the Broadcasting Act of 1976. While it is a welcome fact that there are at
last moves to alter this odious piece of censorship legislation that casts
the SABC as a state controlled broadcaster, it is distressing to see that
such amendments are being introduced before the Green Paper process is
completed. Policy, based on consultation, should identify the most important
features of a public broadcaster to
be included in legislation. To this end, FXI has called for a complete
repeal of the existing Act, and its replacement with an entirely new Act
that must include the following: A clear description of its obligations as a
public service broadcaster, a statement regarding its independence from
government Appointment procedures for the SABC Board, the election of a
Chairperson, and the establishment of mechanisms for public access to the
SABC Board.

FXI is very disturbed to see that none of these areas are covered in the
amendment. In fact, it must be questioned as to why the only purpose of the
amendment is to turn the SABC into a public company where the state is the
sole shareholder. While this move could be interpreted as
a prelude to further privatisation of SABC assets, it also gives greater
control of the broadcaster to the Minister, a move which undermines the
independence of the SABC. By conducting its business in this manner, and
undermining its own public consultation processes, the government is opening
itself up to accusations that its wants to wrest control of aspects of
broadcasting away from the IBA ahead of the 1999 elections. This is
especially so given that the IBA is supposed to ensure equitable elections
coverage free from party political interference during the run up to
elections: if its independence is compromised, its ability to fulfil this
vitally important role is in question, as is the outcome of the election as
a process free from party political influence.

FXI reminds the ruling party, namely the ANC that in 1992 it signed a
declaration under the auspices of the Campaign for Independent Broadcasting
(CIB) that broadcasting should be regulated by an authority `...operating
independently of the government and of the ruling party', and that steps
should be taken to ensure the SABC's independence in particular. This
declaration has significant poignance given the fact that we are heading for
the second round of democratic
elections, and this declaration should be held up as a litmus test for
independent broadcasting generally, and during election time specifically

FXI calls on the government to:

  • Ensure compliance with the 1992 CIB declaration of independence for the
    public broadcaster and the IBA.
  • Put the merger of the IBA and SATRA on hold until the Green Paper process
    is completed, and canvass greater public opinion on the form that the merger
    should take.
  • Refrain from promulgating the Broadcasting Amendment Bill until the Green
    Paper process is complete. There is no doubt that a number of submissions
    contain ideas about the role of the public broadcaster, and FXI itself has
    made recommendations to scrap the old and that the contents of a new one be
    canvassed as widely as possible (this should have been canvassed in the
    Green Paper, and was not for some reason).
  • Release to the public the terms of reference of the Cabinet meeting where
    it was agreed that the IBA and SATRA should be merged.

  • Source

    Freedom of Expression Institute
    PO Box 30668 Braamfontein 2017
    21st floor, Sable Centre, 41 De Korte Street
    Braamfontein, Johannesburg 2001
    South Africa
    jduncan (@) fxi.org.za
    Fax:+27 11 339 4109
    South Africa

    IFEX members working in this country 1

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