The hot seat: Nothando Migogo, new CEO of Samro, which is the subject of a forensic probe. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
The hot seat: Nothando Migogo, new CEO of Samro, which is the subject of a forensic probe. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro) has been rocked by a forensic investigation into its R48m investment in the United Arab Emirates Music Rights collection agency.

The organisation will hold an extraordinary general meeting on September 11 to discuss this issue and a number of promises that have been made since its new CEO, Nothando Migogo, took the reins of a fiefdom that has been in existence for 55 years.

Samro’s primary role is to administer performing rights on behalf of its members. It licenses music users — radio and television broadcasters, live music venues, retailers, shopping centres and promoters — through the collection of licence fees, which are distributed as royalties. It is a nonprofit organisation.

The forensic investigation has come at a good time for its members. They have for years expressed their dissatisfaction with the organisation and have lately increased the volume of their complaints about non-payment for their works, Samro’s three-tier membership structure and the confusion about public domain works.

They believe Samro’s leadership is more focused on strengthening multinational collection agencies than local artists and that it plans to dismantle its local market share structure. They are very concerned about whether royalty payments are going to the right people.

When the arrangement was made to set up a United Arab Emirates Music Rights organisation in 2015, Samro’s interim CEO at the time, Abe Sibiya, wrote: "If the outcome returned with a positive result, Samro would be operating in Dubai today and all rights holders would be rushing to sign up with Samro. Only one board member from my recollection was always sceptical and he made it known." The organisation’s management promised at the time that the Arab deal would result in collection of up to R1bn, which would benefit members. The scheme did not materialise.

Members have been clamouring for the forensic report, compiled by audit firm SekelaXabiso, to be made public. Migogo promises that it will be made available before the special general meeting.

"We are a membership organisation and it is important for the members to know that once they have engaged with the [forensic] report, they are the ultimate structure in the organisation," she adds.

Some members are incensed and are planning to use the meeting to remove the board and transform the organisation into one that properly represents local artists.

"Samro’s modus operandi seems to be: collect as much as possible, do very little to ensure royalty distribution reaches all it should and retain the funds as long as possible so they can qualify to be listed as ‘Undoc’," says member Linda Maseko.

"Samro ought to be transformed to a more transparent and member-centric organisation and not this executive self-serving, detestable organisation it is today. For a member to resort to the Promotion of Access to Information Act, the public protector and other avenues just to get access to answers is worrisome, but what are we to do when the referees like the department of trade & industry and the department of arts & culture aren’t concerned to intervene? I know I speak for thousands out there, some who aren’t even aware they have been victims of Samro’s deliberate omissions so the organisation could retain a chunk of their collections to make use of."

Members have been clamouring for the forensic report, compiled by audit firm SekelaXabiso, to be made public. Migogo promises that it will be made available before the special general meeting.

Earlier in 2018, the minister of arts & culture announced a commission of inquiry would be established into Samro’s ubiquitous scheme in which a share of artists’ royalties are being paid to a composer only known as "DP".

Samro has released a document for discussion at the forthcoming general meeting, explaining that DP is work in the public domain that has no copyright and therefore no one is entitled to its royalty revenue.

For new arrangements of all traditional or public domain music, Samro has been allocating 83.33% of the royalty share to DP. An estimated R1bn has been distributed through this scheme to very few people.

Migogo says: "This is a historical legacy issue that does not reflect the times we are in now. It will be important for us to reflect and adjust accordingly.

"There are various options for allocations — 16.7%, 25%, 50% or 100%. The members must decide."

She was recently selected as chair of the Africa committee of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers. Its 123 member organisations collect on average €8bn annually, of which less than 1% is collected by African organisations representing artists.

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