The SABC Editorial Forum has expressed concern over the impact of the looming retrenchments at the public broadcaster on its mandate to deliver news.
Labour unions and staff were addressing the Parliament’s Communications Committee in a virtual sitting on Wednesday to discuss the SABC’s turnaround strategy as well as its recently released editorial policy.
The SABC management earlier announced its intention to possibly retrench 600 permanent employees and cancel the contracts of around 1 200 freelancers.
The Forum’s Zolisa Sigabi says there has been a lack of transparency over the reason for the retrenchments.
“Neither the news staff nor the news senior management have sat in a meeting where the current state of affairs was analysed. For the first time in our newsrooms history, news management was excluded from the process. Staff was only called to meetings where a draft structure was presented and they were given four days to make inputs.
She added that the Editorial Forum requested a copy of the proposed structure in advance “so that they could analyse it and make informed contributions. But our request was declined. To date, we have not officially received that structure as the news staff.”
SABC Board and Management appear before Parliament:
‘Retrenchment process premature’
Trade unions at the SABC, the CWU and BEMAWU have told parliament that the current process of possible retrenchments at the SABC is premature.
BEMAWU’s Hannes Du Buisson says he is concerned that the SABC may retrench people crucial to the operation of the public broadcaster. CWU general secretary Aubrey Tshabalala expressed concerns, especially about the skills audit process.
Unions told the Committee that SABC management must first implement strategies to mitigate financial threats before embarking on any retrenchments at the public broadcaster.
Du Buisson says SABC management must implement its turnaround strategy in a manner that aims to save workers’ jobs.
“The SABC wants to focus, in the next financial year, energy and resources to continue serving the nation and defend the 71% audience share, should we not wait for the plans that the SABC’s going to put in place before we then say well we need to get rid of some people. The SABC says we have faced stiff competition from pay-tv new free to air broadcasters and OTT players.”
The Forum argues that the recent skills audit by management was flawed and did not correlate to workers’ various job descriptions, saying it is concerning that past and current management has not acted on a 2013 audit report on employee qualifications.
“The 2013 independent audit report conducted by PWC said at the time that only 1 868 qualifications could be authenticated and 24% had fraudulently acquired certificates. The recent attempts at surveying employees’ skills were flawed. The questionnaires in the survey bore no relevance to our job descriptions. The external service provider appointed to conduct the survey admitted to this fact and insisted that we respond anyhow because the audit has to be completed,” defends Sigabi.
Other revenue streams
Organised labours want the public broadcaster to look at other revenue streams such as online advertising in order to become financially viable.
The Communication Workers’ Union says the management of the SABC has not engaged unions in good faith. Tshabalala says the public broadcaster’s turnaround strategy must be based on five key pillars.
“Pillars of the turnaround strategy, one being digital migration, online revenue stream, public broadcaster funding model, the unfunded broadcasting mandate. The fifth one being stringent regulation on the broadcaster itself.
“Digital migration in our view is that digital migration should be an integral part of the turnaround strategy. Reports indicate that close to 70% of advertisers are now moving towards the online content. As a public broadcaster, you must be able to generate revenue in that space that will enable SABC to go forward in terms of financial backup.”
The Committee set aside two days to get a presentation on the turnaround plans of the SABC and its recently released editorial policy.
SABC Board sent packing
The public broadcaster’s Board was sent packing on Tuesday night for what MPs said was its failure to address questions related to its turnaround strategy.
The Communications Ministry said that as the SABC’s sole shareholder, it has every right to order the public broadcaster’s board and management to suspend the envisaged retrenchments.
However, DA MP Phumzile Van Damme has cautioned that it would be an illegal act for the Ministry to issue such instructions to the Board. Members of the ANC were adamant that there was no basis to continue with the public broadcaster’s presentation until they addressed questions related to the turnaround strategy.
Parliament questions SABC’s turnaround strategy: