South Africa: Budget Debate On Vote 3 – Communications

Budget Vote Debate- Extended Public Committee

National Assembly

Hon LL van der Merwe, MP

Honourable House Chairperson;

This Debate comes only a few days after we commemorated World Press Freedom Day. May I take this opportunity to thank all members of the media in South Africa, who continue to play a vital role in supporting and protecting our democracy.

Hon. Chairperson, we must face our challenges head-on.

It is to this end, that the IFP recently met with the SABC, to discuss some pressing concerns. Some of our concern pertained to the fact that our public broadcaster is routinely accused of acting more like a state broadcaster.

We saw echoes of this when the Minister of Social Development recently visited Port Elizabeth. There, the Hon Minister faced an angry crowd at the opening of the drug rehabilitation centre. The story made it to the evening news. But the people’s revolt against our Government, was not televised!

So as we head into Local Government Elections, Hon Minister, we need the assurance that political parties will receive fair coverage and equal treatment. We need the undertaking that there will be no political meddling in the affairs of the SABC and no “canning” of politically sensitive programmes, which has been the case in recent times.

It must also be noted, that under this Minister’s leadership, policy direction has taken a sharp turn for the worse. The Broadcasting Amendment Bill, which this Budget will fund, will further erode the credibility and independence of the SABC.

While concerns about the SABC’s financial credibility and stability remain, we must give credit where credit is due. The SABC’s plans to finally source more of its content locally should be welcomed. Over many years, producers have raised concerns about the excessive red-tape pertaining to the commissioning of content. This initiative is a step in the right direction.

Hon. Chair, we must ask the question: why do we continue to allow corporate communications bullies to make excessive profits at the expense of struggling South Africans?

Well, the failure to expand free broadband nationwide, especially to rural communities, is a failure this Government will not live down. But now, the excessive cost to communicate in South Africa hampers not only economic growth but also denies opportunities to millions of unemployed youth. This is an issue that deserves far greater focus and effort.

Under your leadership Minister, ICASA must act decisively in this regard. But will they? Previous efforts have come to nought.

Maybe ICASA could draw some inspiration from young Mr Nkosana Makate, who has finally won his long battle, against Vodacom. His tenacity and bravery is applauded.

Honourable Chairperson, digital migration is now long overdue. Yet there is no clarity on how this Department will cover the 3 million Rand shortfall for households that cannot afford Set-Top Boxes.

It must also be said that this Department cannot claim gender parity, or claim to respect people living with disabilities, while it fails the minimum employment targets in this regard.

In conclusion, Chairperson, the former head of the GCIS’ Themba Maseko’ recently admitted that he was ordered to divert government advertising to The New Age.

Six years later, and it is now not only the GCIS doing so. Eskom will channel just over R43 million to The New Age until 2017, while Transnet have just spent R20 million on the New Age in the past year. But these are just three entities. There are many more!

It remains preposterous that in the midst of an economic crisis, this Government continues to waste taxpayer money to keep the Gupta/State media empire alive.

These are the issues that require urgent attention, Hon. Minister. If not, the many questions pertaining to the effectiveness and credibility of this Department and its Budget will remain.

I thank you.

SOURCE: Inkatha Freedom Party