Faith Muthambi. Picture: GCIS/NTSWE MOKOENA
Faith Muthambi. Picture: GCIS/NTSWE MOKOENA

THE communications ministry has taken a hands-off approach to the SABC because it has full confidence in the board, it said on Monday.

The department was responding to reports over recent developments at the public broadcaster, saying Communications Minister Faith Muthambi "chose not to meddle" in its internal matters.

New editorial decisions by the public broadcaster included banning the airing of violent protests and its decision to stop the practice of reading newspaper headlines on air.

The move not to broadcast footage of violent protests has been at the heart of the recent problems at the broadcaster, amid allegations that controversial chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was censoring news and purging those who disagreed with him.

READ THIS: POLITICAL WEEK AHEAD: SABC board set for grilling in Parliament

The decision was widely condemned and found to be invalid by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa), which ordered the broadcaster to reverse it. The SABC said it would comply with the Icasa ruling.

Earlier in July, the broadcaster fired a group of eight journalists after they publicly opposed the banning of showing violent protests. Following a brief court battle, the SABC announced publicly that all but one of the journalists would be reinstated.

"Our view is that these are in fact operational issues which need to be resolved buy the board as the accounting authority for the corporation," said the Department of Communications in a statement on Monday.

"Failure to observe this key constitutional and policy provision would in fact render the ministry as interfering with the duties of the board and management of the public broadcaster."

This was how it had been done in the past and the ministry did not want to interfere in the future, Muthambi said.

The minister has been silent on the growing crisis at the public broadcaster. However, she has expressed support for the public broadcaster.

On Tuesday Muthambi is due to brief the portfolio committee on communications on the SABC’s editorial policy, recent changes to it and implementation of Icasa’s order that it withdraw a decision to an footage of violent protests.

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She will also brief the committee on the court cases the SABC was involved in and the financial effect they have had on the broadcaster.

A full-scale parliamentary inquiry into the problems at the SABC could be on the cards. The committee met last week and agreed that more meetings could be required to get to the bottom of the problems at the broadcaster.

Committee chairman Humphrey Maxegwana said this would be subject to approval by House chairman Cedric Frolick.

With regards to the editorial decisions taken at the SABC, the communications ministry on Monday said it was worth recalling that the process to review editorial policy was initiated in the 2013-14 financial year.

The SABC board signed off the editorial policies not the communications ministry, it said.

Meanwhile, the DA said it would use Tuesday’s portfolio committee meeting to request an unequivocal confirmation from Muthambi about whether Motsoeneng would be awarded a bonus.

According to reports, acting SABC CEO James Aguma wants to pay Motsoeneng a bonus for negotiating a deal between the public broadcaster and MultiChoice, three years ago.

"Motsoeneng most certainly does not deserve a bonus. He must be fired," said DA MP and communications spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme.

"Not only has the SABC been rocked by scandal after scandal with Motsoeneng at the helm, he has overseen the financial mismanagement of the public broadcaster. The SABC is expected to make losses of over a billion (rand) for the 2015-16 financial year," she said.