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Parliament adopts amended broadcasting bill

(MISA/IFEX) - On 17 February 2009, the South Africa National Assembly adopted the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, having made the changes that were necessary to bring it in line with the constitution, after President Kgalema Motlanthe had referred the bill back to the lawmakers, said South African media reports.

Ruling African National Congress (ANC) members of Parliament (MPs) and its communications portfolio committee whip, Khotso Khumalo, told the "Cape Argus" newspaper on 16 February that the committee was now waiting for Motlanthe to sign the bill into law. The ANC would then summon the entire South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) board to answer charges of failing to exercise its fiduciary duties.

Khumalo said this could happen before the current Parliament is dissolved ahead of the 22 April elections.

Communications committee chairman Ishmail Vadi also criticized the SABC board for its inability to address problems plaguing the public broadcaster. Justifying the committee's intention of dissolving the board, Vadi said there was a need for parliament to intervene "when a board of a public entity fails hopelessly in discharging its responsibility".

Addressing the National Assembly on 19 February, Vadi said the board had been unable to act on its legal mandate. "It's locked into a conflict with its executive management. It's unable to provide effective corporate governance over a public entity. What must we do?" asked Vadi, adding that it was in times like these that MPs had to wield the axe. "I don't think it is the intention of the ANC to cripple the board unilaterally. It's not the intention ( of the ANC ) to manipulate it unilaterally."

"The intention is to strengthen corporate governance and to ensure the board discharges its fiduciary responsibility effectively and honestly, and that is what is not happening. The SABC is facing a crisis. The current SABC might be facing a deficit of R500 million (approx. US$50 million) and the financial year is not over yet. We haven't had an opportunity as the portfolio committee to summon them to deal with this particular matter. But you can't have a situation where people overrun their budget by half a billion rand and the board doesn't exercise its responsibility," he told MPs. He said whatever problems the public broadcaster faced, the buck stopped with the board as it was accountable to parliament.

Motlanthe referred the bill back to parliament two weeks ago after expressing reservations about the constitutionality of a clause allowing for the entire board to be sacked - but making no provision for a proper inquiry. Opposition parties had also petitioned Motlanthe not to sign the bill, arguing that denying board members due process was a violation of the constitution.

Khumalo said on 19 February that the SABC board could be gone even before the election. "As soon as the president signs the bill, parliament will summon the board," he said, adding that one of the main charges against the board is that the SABC is running an overdraft of R500 million. He also questioned the role of the board's audit committee in failing to address the financial crisis at the SABC.

Updates alert on the Broadcasting Amendment Bill: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100578

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