Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

PARLIAMENT’s communications portfolio committee has shot down a proposal for an inquiry into the chaos at the SABC.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, along with senior executives of the public broadcaster, appeared before the committee on Tuesday to brief legislators on the SABC’s editorial policy, recent changes to it and implementation of the Independent Communications Authority of SA’s (Icasa’s) order that the SABC withdraw a decision to ban footage of violent protests.

The DA had called for an inquiry into the problems at the SABC amid growing concerns that the broadcaster’s controversial chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng was censoring news and purging those who disagreed with him. There have also been concerns that the SABC is facing a serious financial crisis and that it can no longer operate as a going concern.

Muthambi told MPs that there was no crisis at the SABC and that the broadcaster remained financially stable. She said the SABC had implemented Icasa’s order reversing the decision not to air footage of violent protests. She told MPs that the SABC’s decision was purely an "editorial decision, not a policy change".

In July, the public broadcaster fired eight journalists who had publicly opposed the ban on violent protests. Muthambi said all but one of the journalists (freelancer and contributing editor Vuyo Mvoko) had been reinstated.

Speaking at the same briefing, SABC CEO James Aguma said the broadcaster was stable and that it had made progress in terms of the qualifications raised by the auditor-general in previous years. He said the 2015-16 annual report, due to tabled in September, showed that the broadcaster only had one qualification down from eight the previous year.

The SABC has been hampered by acute financial problems and poor financial management in recent years. In 2013, the auditor-general issued the broadcaster a disclaimer opinion — the worst audit opinion.

Motsoeneng, who also attended the meeting, told MPs that there was an "agenda" against the SABC.

"I think the inquiry should be on why there is so much interest in the SABC … There is an agenda; we need to understand who funds these NGOs (nongovernmental organisations)," said Motsoeneng, in a clear reference to lobby groups such as the Right2Know Campaign, which have been calling for his resignation.

ANC MPs were impressed by Muthambi’s presentation and that of the SABC.

"From the presentation it is clear there is no need for an inquiry … the public was misled (about the crisis at the SABC)," said ANC MP Maesela Kekana.

Committee chairman Humphrey Maxegwana said while more meetings were required with the SABC, there was no need for an inquiry.

"Of most importance to the committee is the assurance that the SABC is making headway in reducing matters of emphasis on its financial statements as raised by the auditor-general since 2013," said Maxegwana.

But opposition MPs were not impressed.

"The ANC has clearly received instructions from Luthuli House to protect the SABC executives," said DA MP and communications spokesperson Phumzile van Damme.

"This is no doubt in an effort to protect President Zuma’s close ally and SABC chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeoeng, at all costs …. The public broadcaster continues to be rocked by scandal after scandal with Motsoeneng at the helm, who has overseen the financial mismanagement of the SABC. This complete crisis of leadership has contributed to the SABC’s expected loss of over a billion for the 2015-16 financial year."

Van Damme also said the DA would follow up on the scheduling of the inquiry, which she said had received an in-principle endorsement last week.