Public service broadcasting and the public mandate: a critical analysis of the SABC

Abboo, Cheryl
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Abstract Print media reports on the SABC suggest that the public service broadcaster (PSB) is undergoing a crisis in terms of fulfilling its PSB responsibilities. Hence, this study examines whether the SABC is a genuine PSB. In examining the SABC as a PSB, theories of media and democracy and critical political economy of the media are used. However, this study also engages with the corollary theories of the public sphere, the public interest, PSB, and development journalism. The study uses the PSB characteristics of independence, accountability, distinctiveness and finance as themes to ascertain whether the SABC is a genuine PSB. The methodology of this study consists of institutional analysis, document analysis (which is split into a policy analysis and an examination of print media reports on the SABC) and semi-structured interviews. The study finds that firstly, the SABC’s independence, both politically and economically, is eroded. Secondly, although the SABC is accountable to the state and ICASA, the institution is not adequately accountable to the public it claims to serve. Thirdly, due to the SABC’s reliance on commercial sources of funding, the institution is increasingly shifting towards commercialisation. Fourthly, due to the SABC’s increasing shift towards commercialisation, the institution’s high-quality content provision is being compromised. Hence, the SABC’s distinctiveness in comparison to other broadcasters is eroding. The SABC’s violation of the central tenets of PSB is indicative of a governance crisis within the institution, but most importantly, it indicates that the SABC is not a genuine PSB. A core reason for the SABC’s inability to fulfil the central tenets of PSB and the governance crisis that has befell the institution, are flaws in legislation. The legislation that governs the SABC does not adequately ensure the institution’s independence from the government or its accountability to the public. Consequently, legislation governing the SABC inhibits the institution from fulfilling its PSB responsibilities.
PSB, Public interest, Public sphere, Independence, Accountability, Funding, Distinctiveness