SABC financial scandal

Chris Forrester

South Africa’s Broadcasting Corp is embroiled in a financial scandal, according to local reports. The problems took place at SABC’s New International Channel last year, and it seems there has been massive – and unbudgeted – over-spending on the channel.

South Africa’s ‘Mail & Guardian’ newspaper says there are questions over the role of two key executives at the channel (boss Saul Pelle, and editor Montlenyane Diphoko) and whether they are being used as “scapegoats” over the problems. It seems there has been a R14m (about $1.8m) overspend on hiring staff, over and above the budgeted R42m ($5.4).

SABC’s former news and current affairs head Snuki Zikalala told the newspaper that the SABC’s Board froze the budget despite having earlier agreed an increase. “I came back to work and discovered that SABC News International had been running on over-expenditure because its staff budget had been frozen,” he said. “In October last year I went to the board and then the audit committee and they said to go ahead, because we had to keep the channel running. It is all minuted, so they can’t hide it.”

Not without controversy, the New International Channel was designed to make the corporation a pan-African 24-hour broadcaster to the world. The international channel was phased in over three years, running for five hours a day for the pilot project, and then for 24 hours a day from April last year, just as the cutbacks kicked in. With bureaus in 13 countries, the newspaper states that critics of the service have described the channel as the “sprawling empire” of Zikalala, and has been accused of being a cash-drain.

“It is totally unfair to blame these guys for the over-expenditure when they froze the budget,” said Zikalala. “ I think it is the intention of Robin Nicholson [SABC chief financial officer] and others close to him to shut it down and use BBC and CNN again. It is petty politics and they want to close down SABC News International because of the financial mess they have got into themselves,” he said. “This is a great African channel with pan-African content on it. If we had broadcasters at the SABC, and not politicians, they would have the vision to see the growth possibility.”