Letter to E Funde (SABC Chairperson of the Board) RE: RECENT MEETING AND BRIEFING TO POLITICAL PARTIES BY THE SABC by Bantu Holomisa, MP - UDM President (29 March 2007)
The abovementioned matter refers.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you and your Board members for the invitation to the meeting and for the briefing provided by your good self, which was widely covered by SABC news programmes. We have taken note from the briefing of the SABC's future plans to expand and improve its services. It was pleasing to hear that last year the SABC had a profit and that you are not funded by the state, however that does not address the issue of the R4.74 billion funding that the SABC will receive in this coming financial year from the Government, an increase from R4.27 billion in the previous year.
You will recall that in the UDM submission I did allude to the fact that radio has been relatively accessible to the public and a lot more can still be done to improve radio news and current affairs programming. Your colleagues will also recall that I drew their attention to the fact that there are some concerns on the way that SABC TV seems to be a ruling party mouthpiece, to the exclusion of all other political parties. Currently the impression of many people is that SABC TV news and current affairs programming is giving preferential coverage to the Government and the ANC outside Government. As a result of this the UDM drew your attention to the campaigns in the pre-1994 era when NGOs and political organisations and the then ruling party - through the TEC - agreed on how to free the airwaves then dominated by the National Party Government. Indeed I invited your Board to go to the SABC archives and check how the SABC TV and Radio news and current affairs were operated during the TEC period. It was in this period that all significant political parties were given a fair share of the cake.
Lest we forget, the UDM listed the following concerns in the meeting:
a. All ANC national congresses are broadcast live both by SABC TV and Radio.
b. ANC manifesto launches are also covered live.
c. The ANC's annual "January 8th statement" is covered live.
d. The ANC's 90th anniversary was also covered live.
e. The ANC election campaign closing (siyanqoba) rallies are also covered live (for instance 1999 and 2004).
This does not even include the many other regional and provincial activities of the ANC or the national activities and events of its alliance partners, all of which receive a disproportionate share of SABC coverage.
The UDM also briefed the SABC Board that we have on numerous occasions requested similar broadcasting treatment for our national congresses and election rallies, and even large regional events, thinking that we too are taxpayers and represent taxpayers and voters. When we make such requests we get the lousy query of whether our events will be "newsworthy", whatever that means. We know of no other political party - outside the ruling party and its alliance partners -that have received live broadcasts of their events or activities. Why is it that only the ruling party receives such preferential and exclusive treatment, I asked the meeting.
Over and above this, the ruling party's exclusive access to SABC broadcasting includes the TV and Radio platforms provided to Government officials and spokespersons. Nor, again, do we see, as a rule, alternative views or voices when ruling party policy is broadcast unchallenged in this fashion.
As I said during our meeting, this is not what we understand by the constitutional imperative - which the Public Broadcaster is subject to - of promoting multi-party democracy.
Finally, the meeting agreed these inputs from the UDM and other political parties would be looked at by the SABC Board. In the same vein, I hereby confirm my verbal request in the meeting that the UDM will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary in September 2007 and that we request the SABC to cover that event live. However a separate letter to this effect will be directed to the Head of News, as suggested by the Board. One hopes that we will get a response, because in previous interaction with SABC structures we have often not even received the basic courtesy of an acknowledgement of our correspondence, never mind a response. The said UDM anniversary will be celebrated in Johannesburg on 29 September 2007 and will be attended by approximately 3500 delegates from across the country. Surely, such an event should be "newsworthy", to use the language of your editorial staff.
Bantu Holomisa, MP