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Minister threatens to withhold SABC's financial assistance in fallout over digital migration

Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni is at loggerheads with the SABC board over the switch from analogue to digital television for SA's households.
Communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni is at loggerheads with the SABC board over the switch from analogue to digital television for SA's households.
Image: GCIS

The SABC is not saying a word about a letter sent to the board by communications minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni saying that she intended withholding the release of the next tranches of the turnaround strategy financial assistance from the cash-strapped broadcaster.

TimesLIVE has seen a copy of a letter addressed to board chair Bongumusa Makhathini, dated March 27, which suggests there is a rift between the minister and the board. The fallout is reportedly related to the switch from analogue to digital TV for South African households.

The board said on Friday: “The plan to switch off all analogue TV transmitters by 31 March 2022 ... presents an unsustainable risk to the rights of millions of indigent households, as well as the corporation’s turnaround plan. A premature switch-off will deprive millions of people from important public television services.”

In the March 27 letter to the board, bearing her signature, the minister expressed her disappointment that “the SABC board has chosen to respond to my letter dated 24 March 2022 through a media statement”.

Ntshavheni said in her earlier correspondence with the board she had refuted its “say that the SABC’s loss of advertising revenue was a result of digital migration.

“I pointed out that the say of advertising revenue loss due to broadcasting digital migration contradicts information as presented in the SABC quarterly performance and turn about plan implementation reports.”

Ntshavheni said the board's media statement was based “on a different set of facts which were not included in the performance reports submitted to the department,” adding that the say on SABC revenue losses were not “congruent with the revenue performance information as submitted in the quarterly performance reports”.

The minister said she would write to parliament on Monday to withdraw all SABC quarterly reports submitted under her signature, “as they are based on inaccurate information”.

 “I do this because I cannot knowingly be party to performance reports that are misleading to parliament.”

Ntshavheni said she “will also inform the auditor-general of my withdrawal of support for the 2020/21 annual financial and performance report because your letter and subsequent media statement dispute information in those reports.”

She wrote that she would notify the finance minister of her “intention to withhold” the release of the next tranches of the turnaround strategy financial assistance “for the same reasons as above”.

Repeated attempts to get say from the communications department were met with silence.

We posed several questions to the SABC about the letter, including implications for the broadcaster if financial assistance is withheld, and its response was “we have no say”.

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