SABC Board – the Jewish connection
As DA MP Phumzile van Damme put it, new board members will need “nerves of steel”.
That’s as the announcement of the board was delayed for three weeks by President Jacob Zuma, ostensibly, say analysts, for political reasons while the SABC interim board reported losses of over R1,1 billion for the 2016/17 financial year. The broadcaster has, over the past few years, been plagued by corruption, bad management, low staff morale and political interference.
But nerves of steel – and a stockpile of experience – the two Jewish board members Markovitz and Matisonn have.
Markovitz has over 20 years’ experience as an executive and consultant in the media, technology and entertainment sectors. He helped draft South Africa’s new broadcasting legislation in 1993 and served as the adviser to the Independent Broadcasting Authority and to Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) chairman, Mandla Langa, from 1999 to 2005.
John Matisonn, a veteran journalist who’s served as the executive editor of SABC radio news and was one of the first commissioners of ICASA, was blacklisted from the SABC by the apartheid government. Then in the early 90s was again sidelined while preparing to turn what was a government mouthpiece, into an independent institution.
“I was holding some of my colleagues accountable for corruption that I witnessed. My role in trying to stop it was not appreciated.”
Now he’s back. This time for a five-year term. “I feel very hopeful,” he says. “I believe a good public broadcaster can do an enormous amount for SA and I’m committed to that.”
While on the interim board for six months, Matisonn said he was “very pleased” with the work accomplished. “We massively cut losses and got substantial control of the finances. We are improving the SABC’s reputation and have assured journalists of our protection.”
This is no longer about what came to be known as His Master’s Voice.
As constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos put in recently: “The SABC has for some time operated as a state broadcaster – promoting the interests of the dominant faction within the governing party, instead of as a public broadcaster serving the interest of all South Africans.”
Serving ordinary South Africans is a challenge both Markovitz and Matisonn are looking forward to.
“We need to be far bigger financially and far stronger. We need programming that is more diverse and challenging and be creative in looking for avenues for growth,” says Matisonn.
What’s different this time round, he says, is that parliament is different. “There is tremendous support for the new board. And I would never say that unless I believed it.”
Markovitz believes the SABC plays a “unique role” in our constitutional democracy. “It deals with freedom of expression which is enshrined in our Constitution.” He’s crucially aware that, despite the need for more efficient managing of resources at the SABC, the public broadcaster is up against a formidable competitor for audience and ad share – Pay TV. As he said in his interview, he’s looking forward to “taking the SABC into the next era”.
“I’m honoured to have been appointed and look forward to making a contribution to help turn an important institution around. I hope to get to a situation where the SABC occupies a respected position in society again.”
For many South Africans, says Markovitz, the SABC is the only source of news, information and entertainment.
As he puts it: “This is a public service, a national service.”
*Bongumusa Makhathini has been appointed board chairman and Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, his deputy.