Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Hlaudi Motsoeneng. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

CRAZY censorship, questionable financial management, and now the brazen dismissal of credible journalists for no good reason. This is the sad story of the SABC. The public broadcaster has suffered terrible neglect over the years, with successive boards, CEOs and communications ministers presiding over its decline. No corporation can have as many CEOs as the SABC has had and remain stable. The only comparable institution that has had as many leaders is Bafana Bafana, and we all know the quality of the football that team has produced.

The last decent SABC CEO was Peter Matlare, who introduced a semblance of professionalism in the place and reportedly told politicians to buzz off.

That is the only way the SABC can regain a modicum of credibility. The founding fathers who wrote the Constitution sought in their wisdom to make the process of appointing and dismissing the board as difficult as possible to avoid political interference and unilateral action.

Now, legislation tabled by the communications ministry seeks to reverse that process and place the duty to appoint the board in the hands of the minister. Apart from being constitutionally suspect, this is patently wrong, as it will prevent transparency and participation across the political spectrum. It must be resisted at all costs.

The second issue that needs to be sorted out is the process of appointing executive directors. The fact that the appointment of the CEO, the chief operating officer and the chief financial officer can be vetoed by the minister smacks of political interference of the worst kind. The murky results are there for all to see — utter chaos for the tenures of the last three boards. The executive has become a law unto itself — how else could a chief operating officer, in effect, fire his own board?

The report of the public protector, When Governance Fails, exposes several examples of this untenable situation that has turned the public broadcaster’s chief operating officer into a demigod.

Golden handshakes for a succession of CEOs have cost taxpayers many millions. The board needs to be dissolved altogether as it is dysfunctional and a new board comprising professional men and women with moral integrity put in place to save the public broadcaster before it is brought to its knees.

READ THIS: We are far from powerless against the quiet horror of censorship at the SABC

There is a silver lining in this saga as it has at least proved that the ANC has not been part of the current disaster, at least not by commission. It is clear that the ANC was not behind Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s elevation — his belligerence towards the party in recent times makes it clear that he does not derive his authority from the governing party, at least not its communications subcommittee led by Jackson Mthembu. Rather than his own board, Motsoeneng’s authority is derived directly from the communications minister.

This is a relief in a perverse way, as it puts paid to the assumption that SABC journalists receive calls from Luthuli House to cover news in a certain way.

I am sure the odd official tries his or her luck, but self-censorship is a more logical explanation if Jimi Matthews’s disclosures of the shenanigans that went on in the belly of the beast are anything to go by.

The fact that there was a discussion about marginalising the EFF removes what little credibility the broadcaster had left. It will not be regained until something drastic is done at the top of the food chain.

The firing of eight SABC journalists is one of the most embarrassing episodes in the SABC’s history. The courts are bound to declare the move illegal and reverse it, but where is the board in all this? If it remains silent and takes no action against Motsoeneng, we will know we have reached rock bottom.

It is clear to me what must happen: the entire board must be fired and replaced with a board that can independently do the real "operation clean-up" in line with the recommendations of the public protector. The minister is clearly not going to do the right thing — only Parliament can come to the SABC’s rescue by forcing the hand of the president.

• Tabane hosts Power Perspective on Power FM